Does what you do define who you are?

‘What do you do’, this was the question posed to me at a community event. Being in a non  conformist mood, I replied, that I ‘do’ many things, have many titles and wear several different hats, sometimes more than one at the same time.

I could see the look of puzzlement flicker across the gentleman’s face opposite me. “I would like to tell you what I am instead”, I continued. “People tell me that I am engaging, supportive, good at collaborating, making things happen…I am curious, creative, trying to develop an expansive worldview, love learning, my purpose is to help people cultivate what is best within themselves…” (you get the gist…).

I paused and then continued, “How does that compare to ‘I help women progress their careers, grow their businesses and develop teams and people within organisations through coaching, mentoring and leadership programmes’? I asked.

The gentleman, in his late 60’s pondered for a moment before responding, “well never heard one like that before, hmm suppose know you as opposed to your title …”

Does what you do define who you are?

Later on, during the dinner I was placed next to a recruiter on my left and an executive (that’s how he described himself) on my right. As we engaged in conversation (he did most of the talking and I listened), his ramblings were entirely work related. On trying to move the subject away from work, I discovered that he had 2 young children and a stay at home wife, but he seemed reluctant to discuss them or anything else.

Are you someone with little interest outside of work who thinks about work all of the time? Do your conversations revolve around work because you don’t have anything else to say? Are all of your accomplishments and achievements work related?

When work takes over

 For some people work can be all consuming and in such scenarios often lead to negative consequences.
I recall, Sir Stuart Rose admitting that his commitment to M&S may have contributed to the decline of his marriage, ‘At the time, M&S was my wife and my mistress too and Kate got what was left which was very unfair’.

Sir Stuart Rose was also haunted by the sense that he had abandoned his mother who committed suicide. “I wasn’t there for her. I didn’t realise she was about to kill herself…I was absorbed in my career, I was absorbed in myself…. I made a mental note to call her… But I didn’t… And I always ask myself this question. Would she have still killed herself if I had called her at five to eight …?”

Are you putting in a disproportionate amount of time at work?
Interests, connections, relationships, hobbies outside of work can help to boost mental health and well being, keep you refreshed, energised and expand your perspectives and worldview.

Holding onto titles?

I attended a seminar the other day, and the speaker’s headline title was ‘ex CEO of XYZ’ and I wondered if he was unable to build and use his own personal brand and identity and become know for who he currently is as opposed to clinging to an organisation that he is no longer part of. And since then have noticed many more, such as ‘former manager of ABC’, ‘ex CTO of 123’… Interestingly they were all men and I wonder if this is something about trying to retain status, power, and recognition?

Who are you?

I am not going to give my usual 5 tips or 7 strategies but leave you with 2 stories from Stephen Covey whose work has been instrumental in shaping my  life in my 20’s. Apologies to those who know them well, hope that it serves as a reminder.

1. The first story is of YOU going into a church and noticing that the people in there are your family, close ones, friends, work colleagues. As you reach the front, you notice that it is YOU in the coffin. You watch as they come up one by one to talk about you. What did they say? I doubt very much that they would say, “You increased revenue by 30%, grew the company to a multinational one…” What is it that you want to be remembered for? What is it that you want to contribute to the world? What will you be known for?

2. The second is his demonstration with a glass jar into which he placed some rocks. When Jar of rocksit was full and no more rocks would fit, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone responded “Yes.” This then continued with some gravel, then some sand and water, each time asking the same  question.

And the message? “If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

What is your jar full of full? What are the big rocks in your life?

  What defines you? What would you be remembered for? What is in your jar? 

Image 1. My hats! Image2. Flickr user Syahrel Azha Hashim  Image 3. Flickr user rubber rat productions 

I work with women who are advancing their careers and businesses, women who have left  employment to build profitable businesses AND develop teams and people within organisations through coaching, mentoring and leadership development programmes. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead and on LinkedIn


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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6 Responses to Does what you do define who you are?

  1. David Goddin says:

    I do wonder where this social norm of saying what we do, not who we are, comes from?!? I blogged on this last month and Julie (@fuchsia_blue) shared a brilliant little story from a French client of hers – makes me think this is in part a cultural issue. You can read it here :-

  2. Graham Frost says:

    That is such a wonderful post! It has made me realise that I need to talk to people more about what I love doing outside of work as well as what I love about my work. Even if my favourite occupations outside work include watching cricket, listening to jazz, and drinking red wine, sometimes all at the same time.
    Seriously, though, an excellent and thought-provoking post on a darkening autumn afternoon. Thank you Vera!

    • verawoodhead says:

      Thank you Graham I am so glad that you found it uesful. I can conjure up a warm summer’s day from your comments!
      Another story 2 woodcutters – one takes time out to sharpen his saw, the other continues to beaver away (eventaully with a blunt saw) Don’t need to say which one was more effective and productive!
      Can recommend 7 Habits of Highly Effective people by Stephen Covey

  3. I loved this post Vera and read it after working with a coaching client on just this topic. Exploring how they want to be in order to do what they do. If we bring more of who we are into our work, which includes ALL OF US and not just the label we attach to the roles we do, I think we become more authentic, true to ourselves and live our lives with passion!

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