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Get To The Good Stuff

I’m heading to a networking event later today and I’m a bit anxious. Not because I don’t know anyone or find big crowds overwhelming, but because I know I’m going to get that question I dread: “What do you do?”

Now I get that it’s par for the course at a networking event, and, truth be told, that’s part of why I avoid them. What has me going tonight is this very cool woman who is the featured speaker. Knowing this town as I do, I’m sure the room will be filled to the brim with some fabulously interesting people, so to be clear the source of my angst is not about the idea of networking, it’s about the way we go about it.

“So, what do you do?”

I’ve never cared for this question, in part because I suck at answering it. I know, I know…I should get over it, I should have my elevator pitch down after six-years as a successful entrepreneur, I should, I should, blah, blah blah. But it’s really not a question I’m interested in asking or, frankly, answering. It’s the question we’re supposed to ask. And I’ve never been good at doing things simply because they’re expected. I’m a bit of a rebel that way.

Here’s what I want to ask (and answer) that is infinitely more appealing:

  • What puts the fizz in your ginger ale these days?
  • What do you want to change about the world?
  • What makes you come alive?
  • What gives you hope?
  • What fulfills you?

But no, instead we ask (and I am guilty of this to…): What do you do? Blegh.

The sad truth is, most of the time I hear that question I giggle (real smooth!) or sometimes groan and roll my eyes (uber professional). When I first started my business, I used to just rattle off this list of things I did (events, services). Over the years I found some key phrases that do the trick, my latest is “I partner with women to create change“, but I’m thinking of changing it to “I light fires for women.” You like those? Meh. They still leave me feeling like a used car salesman, hocking my wares in as few words as possible. I’ve fantasized about introducing myself as a solar physicist, but I’m not sure I could pull it off.

What I really want is a genuine connection. Isn’t that what most of us want? To truly connect?

Because when all is said and done, we are so much more than our jobs. I don’t know about you, but hearing about what someone does can fall flat for me. But hearing why they do what they do or what makes them come alive (or not) in their work? That’s where it’s at for me.

Some of my most powerful exchanges among strangers have happened when we had no idea what the other person did for work – nor did we care. Instead, we introduced ourselves answering questions like, “Who are you?” Try that at your next meeting and see people’s eyebrows go up – first in shock, then deep in thought, then in engagement.

I love the humility and irreverence of putting our “work” in its proper place – not diminishing the value of it, but simply knocking it down a few pegs as a means to give context for the greater picture of who we are. After all, work doesn’t define us, does it? It’s simply one of the many things we do – sometimes we love it, sometimes we just fall into it, sometimes it just pays the bills – but it’s not the entirety of who we are.

An amazing writer I know who is highly accomplished and by all accounts could dazzle people with her work experience, describes what she does like this: “I write and edit stuff that needs to be written and/or edited.”

I want to be that woman who puts her work in its place.

So I’m breaking the rules (this is not new, but I want it on the record). I’m going for the good stuff tonight. Screw the elevator pitch. I trust in my ability to make a genuine connection with people I am meant to meet. Pithy is so 90s. Real is where it’s at for me. And damned if I’m not the only one that feels that way because that’s what my clients seem to be hungry for – a connection that’s got some meat to it, a feeling of serendipity – that we were destined to meet, and a genuine desire to explore why.

That’s where I want to play.

6 comments to " Get To The Good Stuff "

  • michaela

    Go, you! It’s funny – I hadn’t thought about the rationale behind my description of my work… but I think you’re on to something. What I do is hard to describe in a phrase, and I really don’t like people who take themselves too seriously. And so there you have it.

    • Lael

      So glad to hear your thoughts on this, Michaela. Because my big fear is that I’m really just making up a pretty sophisticated cop-out on the whole “elevator pitch” thing…but you’re right, the whole notion of people taking themselves too seriously DOES bump up against some of my core values. It all feels so serious and grown-up. That’s why the idea of adopting an alter-ego profession – like a pole dancer or a solar physicist appeals to me 🙂 Wag more, bark less.

  • This post is really poignant for 2 reasons: 1) I always struggle with answering the question – I am a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a coach, a blogger – how can I encapsulate that all into one pithy remark? and 2) everyone has the same disdain for this question, on both sides. I was recently talking to a client, and this topic came up. He is an amazing and skilled technology and project management consultant. He said that when he gets this question, if he doesn’t care about creating a relationship with the person, he says “I work with computers”, but if he cares about the relationship he responds along the lines that he helps others use technology to solve problems. When I am asked the question, I can almost never predict what will come out of my mouth, as I like to play with my response and see if I can get to a deeper level. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lael

      Brilliant, Chelsea! Love the validation (that’s always good to get!), and I really appreciate you sharing your client’s approach to that question – it sounds like he gives himself permission to filter his responses according to his level of investment. That’s really helpful, because I almost instantly know I’m going to work with someone the minute I meet them – I just feel it. I also like your playfulness about not predicting what will pop out of your mouth when asked that question – it feels so deliciously heretical! Says a lot about you! Thanks for sharing!

  • love this. thanks for posting about the inspiring michaela. when i go to “networking” events i have stopped trying to meet people in the plural… i hope to connect with at least one person on a real level and have a good conversation. this makes it much more fun. what event am i missing tonight?

    • Lael

      You’re not missing anything, Cathy, no worries! I actually wrote this prior to attending last week’s Whitney Johnson talk. By the way, not ONE person asked me “So, what do you do?” that night…go figure. And here I was all loaded for bear! Isn’t that always the case!