That dreaded question… “what do you do?”

The holidays are coming… and along with holiday parties and family gatherings comes the dreaded question:

What do you do?

The holidays are here… and along with holiday parties and family gatherings comes the dreaded question:

What do you do?

As someone who’s professionally re-invented themselves (more than once) I’ve experienced a range of emotions in response to this question: I’ve felt panic, bone weariness, and even the occasional spark of joy. I interviewed one guy who said that during his transition from a corporate job to running his own production studio, he developed so much holiday social anxiety that when he felt this question coming, he could feel his heartbeat in his teeth!

No matter the time of year, professional transition has this mushy phase of uncertainty when you’re not one thing anymore but you’re not yet really another. If you’re the kind of person who prides yourself on showing up authentically or on being able to truly connect with others, standing around at a party and not knowing how to represent yourself can be a really tough situation!

So how do I tackle it?

Well in addition to all the breathing, self-care and intention setting stuff I generally recommend – I also do something kind of radical and totally counter intuitive.

When it comes to trying on a professional identity, as soon as I have even a vague inkling of what it might be… I break it out in public as early and as often as I can. I let those public declarations be the anvil upon which my new identity is forged. I’m not saying these interactions aren’t awkward and uncomfortable – if I’m in the room, there will always be a splash of awkward-sauce – but as I hone my word choice I can watch the light of understanding in other people’s eyes grow – until they’re just as excited as I am.

A million lifetimes ago, I started a business where I made eco-friendly home textiles (tea towels, grocery bags, aprons, etc.). I would spend hours on artwork, picking dyes and matching them with screen printed patterns until I absolutely loved what I’d made. And then I’d pack it all up in giant ziploc containers and schlep it to a farmers market or craft fair. I’ve never hated anything more… I’d display my beloved goods only to have my customers ignore them. They’d gravitate to this one stupid pillow with a bicycle print on it that I was so BORED of, completely overlooking the brand new colorways I’d just introduced. Watching my customers interact with my product was the best market research I ever could have gotten and helped me eliminate costly and unpopular lines while honing in on something that they actually loved (and that I wasn’t bored of either).

Once I decided to become a Professional Transition Coach, I kept this in mind and signed up for a networking event. We all sat in a circle, taking turns to give our 60 second pitch. As each person spoke, my palms grew sweatier and my mind raced, rehearsing what I was going to say until finally it was my turn. I literally have no memory of what I said… it was just panic. But then the moment was over, and I’d done it.

I started signing up for more and more events. I did 3 one week, then 4, then 5… until finally I had my pitch down and I could give it naturally and confidently.

Was it comfortable? HAHAHAHAH, no… but, that’s where all the breathing, self-care and intention stuff comes in.

Was it the fastest, most efficient and best way to come up with a words to describe myself and what I offer in a way that really connects with my audience? Yes!

So as you head into the holidays, rather than letting that dreadful question get you down, look at it as your chance to practice your pitch (and skip a networking event or two) on your journey towards a better fitting professional identity.

And seriously, that breathing, self-care and intention setting stuff is where it’s at in terms of keeping mind and body together in the meantime.

Happy Holidays!

1 reply on “That dreaded question… “what do you do?””

Hi Michelle,
It’s true that for our generation is hard to decide what do professionally and so many times we have to change professions.
You’re advice is really sound.

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