What do you do?

NameTagImagine a scenario where you are meeting for someone for the first time. If you live in America, there is a good chance that the conversational exchange will go something like this:

An opening volley of small talk …

A bit more small talk …

Something about the weather …

And then someone will inevitably say — wait for it …

“So, what do you do?”

How do you answer the question, “What do you do?”

I first entered the corporate world in the late ’80‘s. At that time it was common to respond to “What do you do?” with the name of the company you worked for. “I work for MetLife.” or “I work for Cisco.”

But over the last 20 years the nature of the employer / employee contract has changed. Companies stopped making long-term promises and employees — wisely — stopped making long-term commitments. As a result what you do has been decoupled from who pays you to do it. This is a good thing.

You are now a company of one — a startup of you. ‘What you do’ comes from you expertise, your experience, and even your aspirations, delivered through the grace and power of your professionalism. You get to define what you do. It has nothing to do with who is paying you to do it (if anyone) right now.

It no longer makes any sense to try and explain to someone what you do by first telling them the name of your employer. The next time someone asks you what you do, try starting your sentences with:

“I’m an expert at …”

“I’m working on …”

“I’m on a mission to …”

“I help people …”

“I create …”

“I lead …”

So, what do you do?

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