When you’re standing in an elevator and someone asks you what you do for a living, what do you tell them? Do you immediately respond with the short-code of labels? In other words, do you say “I’m corporate attorney”? Sure, that’s the title or label representing a whole career path, but does that really tell them what you do? Does it tell them why you get up at 5 am everyday? Why you went through 7-10 years of schooling?
Everyday communication is so easy to shortcut by telling people what they expect to hear. If you respond with basic information to casual questions, it keeps everyone comfortable. The problem is, I can’t control what those short cuts mean to people. They may have a brother-in-law who carries the same label and he’s a jerk! What I can control is my own story. I can communicate what my current mission is by not taking the low road of social norms and actually be thoughtful in my responses to basic questions.
Why is this important? Does anyone really care? Deep down, we don’t want to be mollified. What do we really want? We want to be delighted! We want to be surprised.
When I ask you “How do you earn a living?” don’t tell me you fix cars, say “I am puzzle solver in the automobile industry” or “I take people’s car problems and twist them around like a Rubik’s cube!” This is not hyperbole or overinflated self-importance, you are giving that person a glimpse inside a place they never understood. Sure, many of us are very thankful that we have men and women who find pleasure in tormented toilets – we are glad somebody cares and we show that with our spending power. The point is that when I go to employ my cash, who do I want dealing with the mysteries of plumbing? The guy who has a board expression or someone with a twinkle in her eye when they diagnose?
There is mystery, drama and subtlety in every occupation and every business – The key is to focus not on the outside of the building, but on what’s found in the dark corners and winding hallways. The process, the thinking and curiosity that drives you.
Once you can show the world your story, they will start to care at least in the fact that you do.