Who Are You?

Last week I watched this eloquent 2009 TED talk by Alain de Botton on how we define success. His thoughts on career-based snobbery struck me, as I’m one of those people who has had fancy sounding job titles that no one understands, and I often wonder how that influences the opinions of people I meet. I also strongly relate with the Sunday evening weeping into a pillow. Career anxiety is very real, especially when you’ve just lost your job (again) for reasons beyond your control.

When you meet someone at a party or on a first date, the typical small talk starter is: “What do you do?” And the answer to that question has an immediate and possibly permanent effect. You put them in a category. Someone who works at a grocery store will be thought of differently than a scientist or a CEO. Who would you befriend, hire, marry?

It’s this insta-judgment that perpetuates the kind of snobbery de Botton says leads to pervasive career anxiety. Your job title supplants your identity and influences how others treat you.

When I say the words “Content Strategist” I often get blank looks. It’s a relatively new role in tech and marketing, and unless you work in one of those areas you may not have heard of such a job title. I think it’s hard for people to put me into an easy category, and maybe that’s a good thing. On the other hand, as a job hunter it can be hard to defend the value of something that someone doesn’t understand. It becomes a networking barrier, because people have a hard time explaining it to others.

When I say, “I was on the Product team,” or, “I helped define the user experience,” the looks are sometimes slightly less blank, but they still seem to ask, “But what ARE you?” Or WHO ARE YOU? What’s your identity? What’s your deal?

When I mention that I managed the blog and wrote and edited content, the looks are less blank, but people tend to assume that I’m a lower-level marketing person. The fact is, I’m a mid-to-senior-level wearer of many hats. And I like to wear many hats. Bring on the hats! As long as there’s a creative hat, an innovation hat, and an “actually doing work” hat, I’m pretty happy. I’ll even put on the less comfortable client-relations hat or budgeting hat if I get to wear a couple of the above, too.

This hat-wearing propensity is what attracts me to Product Management as my next role. I read this article, and when I got to the “What product management is” section I thought, that’s exactly what I do! 

When I was in high school I played the Caterpillar in a French adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ My only line was, “Qui êtes-vous?” WHO ARE YOU? I often sympathize with Alice’s response, “…I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

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