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The Difference Between Who You Are And What You Do for a Living

Norway Postcard 1 of 6: Boat
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Today is a good day via Compfight

A few nights ago we had a gathering at my parents’ house.  One of my mom’s friends who had never met me introduced herself, and said “you’re a lawyer right?”  As I started saying no she said “oh yeah that’s right you’re an MBA.”  As tempted as I was to reply, “actually I’m Srini. I’m a surfer, blogger, brother, host of a show about online business, and much more”, I realized starting a conversation this way is not something that’s isolated to Indian people.

For ages people have been defined by what they do for a living. “So what do you do?”  is a common cocktail party line.  It’s how many conversations start. But there’s so much more to all of us.  I don’t think that my tombstone will read Srinivas Rao, MBA. In fact I’ll be sure to provide instructions to some family member to make sure that never happens.

Beyond the Bullet Points

We all have  a story that goes far beyond where we went to school and what we do for a living.  The stories of our travels,  hobbies, personality quirks and times we fell in love make us who we are. That’s the good stuff. To define our impressions of people based on what they do for a living is like viewing the world from the window of a corner office or  through postcards from your friends.

As you’ve probably heard me mention a handful of times, my sister is a doctor. But there is far more to her that defines her. She was an assistant pastry chef at a french bistro in Berkeley and makes amazing desserts. As a kid she was a terror who somehow knew how to get whatever she wanted out of all of us. She’s sharp as a razor, witty and sarcastic. There’s a big difference between who she is and what she does for a living.

Maybe we should start the conversation with “what’s your story?” But what’s funny is most of us would start with our careers because we’ve been conditioned for so long to make that the starting point of any conversation. As I write this I’m realizing I don’t know much about my parents’ friends beyond what they do for a living.  So I’m part of the problem to which I’m suggesting solution.  I know one of them wanted to ski with his daughter when she got older because we’ve talked about our hobbies. But beyond that If you asked me about my parent’s friends, I’d start by telling you what they do for a living.

There’s so much more to people than the bullets on their resume. I don’t spend a lot of time looking at tombstones but to the best of my knowledge there’s a difference between a tombstone and a resume. So I’d say live life accordingly. 

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