The Life Resume vs. the Career Resume

Ask me who I am, not what I do

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How often do you meet someone new and within minutes are asked, “what do you do?” When this happens to me, my gut response is to shut down or say something like, “I travel, do yoga, run, drink wine and eat cheese.” This usually results in either a follow-up question or the person who asked appears perplexed and trying again asks… “no really, what do you do?”

When I was 22, I had my first “grown up” job as a fitness consultant at a local YMCA. As part of the gig, I wanted to create connections with members. My way of doing this was to smile and say “hello.”  If they responded or gave me a signal they were open to engage, I would ask, “what do you do?” (Yes, I am guilty of this too). One day, as I was going through my daily ritual, one of the members stopped what he was doing, looked at me and asked, ‘why do people in North America care so much about we do? We from Europe talk about food, music and culture.’ I was taken aback and did not really “get it” at the time.

As I moved along in my career and have been fortunate to have had many global experiences, I have grown to dislike this question more and more. It probably doesn’t help that what I “do” cannot be packaged with a nice tidy bow. When asked, it takes about three minutes to answer and I have to think about who my audience is. Do I respond by telling you I am a globetrotter, a consultant, a recruiter, a runner, a volunteer or…

I have come to understand how multifaceted people are and what we “do” to pay the bills does not define us. Yes, sometimes learning about one’s profession gives us insight into what we have chosen to dedicate some of our life to, but it is only part of our story. I have worked with a founder of a consulting firm who is also a choir director, met a pianist who is also a pro baseball player, an optometrist with a fashion and lifestyle blog, an operations director with a passion for real-estate, and the list goes on.

Focusing on one’s career resume – what they do, what company they work for, what university they attended can lead to missing out on their life resume – what have they experienced, their hobbies, places they have lived, music they enjoy, food they appreciate. Asking “what do you do?” does not create the space to start forging deeper connections, and as Brené Brown’s states in her book, Daring Greatly, “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” I believe this to be true.

The next time you meet someone new, instead of asking them about their career resume, find out who they are by learning about their life resume. Below are some questions that may help you get started:

  • What do you enjoy doing most when you are not working?
  • Where have you traveled in the world?
  • What books or audios have you listened to lately that excite you? Why?
  • What are you looking forward to in the coming weeks?
  • Are you listening to any podcasts right now? YES/NO What are your favorites?
  • How did you get here today?
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