Does what you do, Define Who You Are?

Life shouldn’t just be about what you do and who you work for, but more importantly about your Why.

Who are you ?
image via iStock

Recently, I was lucky enough to have 5 weeks off between jobs. A couple of years ago I was even luckier to have the opportunity to take 5 months off work. When taking that time off I decided to change my Linked-In profile, with my profession as Farmer/Guvnor and my employer as Arctic Park.

image via Markie J Bray

For those that don’t know me, besides my main profession as a Regional Manager and mentor, I own an equestrian centre north of Melbourne called Arctic Park (it gets a bit nippy as the sunrise pic shows, sitting above the clouds!). I love working on the 36 acres, and as my twitter feed states I’m a Vic farmer by weekend, Melbourne inspirer by weekday and aspiring entrepreneur all of the time. Obviously with a grain of self-deprecating sense of humour, this has become part of who I am and what I believe in. Even though I was taking time out from the corporate world, I still kept a toe in the water in regards to what was happening around town and would still attend some industry events. It was at these events, that I came across a strange phenomenon. On arrival I’d be given my name tag, which would have my new employer, Arctic Park on it.

In my experience, when networking at industry events such as these, the two most common questions when meeting new people are:

  • What do you do?” and;
  • Who do you work for?”

I remember it was a glorious summer rooftop event and I walked in and met my first new person of the night. As expected I was asked the first question, “What do you do?”, I happily answered “Nothing” which prompted an awkward, “So……. you don’t work?”. When I responded “That’s correct” an even more awkward silence would follow, with a quizzical look.

My new friend, clearly struggling to understand why I was actually there, and why I seemed to have no substance (job or company to cling to), just couldn’t pigeonhole or make sense of me. Obviously the ‘Who do you work for?” didn’t arrive.

After a brief discussion, I moved onto the next person. This time when asked “What do you do?” I changed tact and responded “I build horse sheds!” Again a quizzical look. Looking at my name tag I was then asked “What does your company Arctic Park do?” I smiled and started to explain to more puzzled frowns!

Here I was, in a room filled with property industry professionals and I was giving answers that just didn’t fit!! A few people were intrigued by the fact that they’d found someone a little “different”, but most people couldn’t work out what “box” I fitted into. I loved it.

It did however raise the question “Does what you do, define who you are?”

I’d ostracized the people I’d met in the room and I was a misfit for the first time. The question niggled at me, and still does. I’m aware of the psychological trait that “people like people who are like themselves”, but was I so different from these people? Just because I’d told them I wasn’t a Project Manager, Quantity Surveyor, Architect or Developer!

I’m a great believer in questioning the status quo and throwing a curve ball at times to get a reaction, but this was just plain silly.

I thought long and hard about these reactions and it brought me back to my thinking and understanding of the “why”. I’m a big fan of the question why? and use it a lot in business, coaching and mentoring. A few years back I was introduced to Simon Sineks “Start with the Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” and I think it is essential reading for all business leaders.

Life shouldn’t just be about what you do and who you work for, but more importantly about your why.

Why do you do what you do, why do you believe in it, why do you choose one approach over another – basically defining the “essence of you”.

I believe your leadership style should be based on a clear why. If you find your why and truly believe it, your team, company and personal brand will benefit and be strengthened by it. Look at great business leaders like Branson, Gates and Jobs. Their own personal why is powerful – even though they may be a step removed from the companies they built. Yet we know what they personally stand for – they have a why which we never, for a moment, doubt because they have spent years living it.

With a clear why, there is no questioning what path you are taking your team on or how you are going to get there. It’s a natural consequence and outcome for your team to either follow your leadership or choose to get off the bus, so to speak.

Once you possess a strong personal why, you no longer need to answer the two most common questions, what you do and who do you work for? Your own why will override those questions and the engagement it brings will generate interest and debate around the essence of you as well as your company and role.

So go out there and discover and create your why to the world, because as Simon Sinek says “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it!

Happy discovering.

I’d like to thank Jannie for her help in finding the Why of this Blog.

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