Susan, a woman I met a few weeks ago, said she spent most of her career working on the east coast. An assignment took her to San Francisco recently and she told me an interesting story that happened while she was there. If you think cultural differences are interesting, read on…
When Susan arrived in California, she didn’t know anyone. On her first day of work, a co-worker invited her to a cocktail party they were having that night. She agreed, and showed up that evening. When she arrived, a casually dressed man by the name of Billy engaged her in conversation and asked her what she did. She replied “I’m in the financial industry”. She returned the favor by asking what he did. He said, “I surf”. She said (caught off guard), “You surf for a job?” He replied, “No, I surf for fun. That’s my hobby.”
It then became clear to her that they were talking about two different things. When he asked her what she did, she responded with what she did for a career. When he was asked, he responded with what he does for fun.
There is a cultural difference going on here. In the northeast, we feel that our careers define us and tell people who we are based on what we do. Over in Surfer-ville, what they enjoy spending their time on defines them.
When you are asked “What do you do?”, how do you respond? Are you happy with your answer?
I struggle with it all the time. I am very proud to say I own a business, but that’s not all I do. I also struggle with the way I answer the question, because saying I’m a “small business owner” implies that what I do is small. I think it has a negative connotation. It’s like saying I own a small house rather than a big one. On the other hand, if I say I’m self employed, that sounds empowering, courageous, like I’m a risk taker. Yet, they mean the same exact thing.
How we define ourselves is a tricky endeavor. Pay attention to what you say when you talk about yourself and watch the way others react. This is especially important if you are trying to influence others or be viewed a particular way. Once again, consider your audience and your forum. What you say, how you say it, and when you say it all play into this as well. This is a part of your personal branding and it’s a great exercise. I’m working on mine every day. Today, I’m an Icon For Change. Tomorrow, if I do what today’s definition is, it will always be new and evolving.