I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for six months. He asked how work was going, referring to two companies ago. Going through my current career transition means the question he asked invariably requires an involved explanation and arguments—mostly to convince myself—that I’ve made solid choices. I’m pretty sure my explaining made him slightly uncomfortable and a bit confused.
Having direct experience working with me in a recruiting/HR role, he was shocked I had shifted gears, abandoning a career that most people closely associate with me. My guess is if I had asked him, or any other professional acquaintances, to free associate three words about me, his responses would have been recruiting, bourbon and blonde.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve morphed into Mollie Bentley, Recruiter. While I worked hard to be taken seriously in the world of HR (hence the SPHR certification and incessant networking), I eventually pigeonholed myself. I’m not alone—my inbox whenever I post about career proves it. If you’ve worked in a profession for more than a decade, your name is probably inexorably linked to that profession, for better or worse. People like to categorize and label others because it’s comfortable and familiar. As in, I think you’re an X, so I can assume you’ll do Y. But does anybody want to be that closely associated with their work?
This starts at an early age, as was evidenced on a field trip earlier this week with my son and his 2nd grade class. Several boys asked me what I did for a living, and ‘freelancer’ or ‘consultant’ isn't concrete enough for 9-year-olds. I hemmed and hawed, struggling to put words to what I do. Harry tried to assist by telling them I make videos, to which one little guy replied, “Are you a YouTube star? What’s your channel?” Since I’m co-star of the BrandFlick Chronicles, I said, “Yeah, I’m a YouTube star.”
Even my husband, has commented, “I don’t know what you do.” Jason says, “I don’t know how to explain it. What should I tell people?”
When the bulk of your identity is associated with your work, it’s beyond intimidating to shift directions. Not only is it challenging to learn something new (old dog, new trick), but sensing people are watching every move you make, waiting for you to fail, is nerve-wracking. Hint—It’s mostly in your head because people tend to be too engrossed in their own shit to really care. If they’re waiting for you to trip up, it’s rooted in envy that you had the balls to take the leap, and they didn’t.
Why does classifying us by our work matter? We’re so much more than what we do to earn money. Is it just easier to categorize people by profession than to dig deeper to learn more? I’m a pickle-loving, blue-ribbon-winning peanut-butter cookie baker, Fiestaware collector, amateur movie maker, baseball fan, travel enthusiast, writer who wears my heart on my sleeve, laughs too loudly at inappropriate times, and loves eating Swedish Fish. I bet you have some interesting qualities or hobbies too.
Even if you enjoy your profession and would like to continue on that path, wouldn’t it be more fun to promote other facets of yourself? When you meet someone and they ask what you do, instead of immediately saying, “I’m a paperclip bender,” or, “I’m a tugboat captain,” try saying, “I’m into making memes and building ships in bottles,” or, “Last month I visited the SPAM Museum and I brew my own beer in my basement.” I guarantee the conversation will be far more stimulating and memorable.
I’ve decided to not put a label on what I’m doing. Writer / Storyteller / Talent Acquisition Consultant / Social Media Marketer / Business Development Manager / YouTube star is probably a bit much to squeeze onto a business card. Business cards are outdated anyway. More to the point, when someone asks me what I do, my response will be, “It’s complicated.”
Let’s get to know each other! I want to know something about you that isn’t associated with your work, profession, trade or career. Leave a comment that details something about you that is noteworthy, amusing, impressive, etc.