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How Do You Define Yourself?

August 11, 2010 2 comments

You see it all the time. In a job interview your potential employer says “So, tell me about yourself.” On Facebook, you fill in the About Me section of your profile. On your first day of class the teacher asks you to tell the class about yourself. If you are like most people, you don’t put a lot of thought into it. You probably say something about your family and your job and maybe a couple of things you do as hobbies. But is this truly how you define yourself? Are you the sum of those three sentences on your profile? I am guessing not.

For the longest time, I defined myself in a similar way. I was a project manager for Wachovia. I was a husband, no kids. I was what’s-her-name’s husband or what’s his name’s son. But for me, I never felt like that was what defined me. You couldn’t sum up my thoughts, fears, experiences, values, phobias, principals, quirks and guilty pleasures all into “I live in Albemarle, NC with my wife and work in IT at Wachovia.”  Anyone reading this who knows me also knows that a lot of time has passed since I felt this way. I live in a different city now with a different wife and we have three children. Wachovia has been bought by Wells Fargo and I am still struggling not to say Wach… er… the old bank name. I have also begun to define myself in a much different way.

Please keep in mind that I am talking about defining yourself, not just describing. If I was to describe myself to you, I would probably start with height, weight, hair color, build, and then would place myself in the world with where I work, where I went to school, where I go to church, etc. But that does not define me. In a dictionary, we could look at the word “see”. A description of the word would look something like this: “A three letter word, beginning with the 19th letter of the alphabet and followed by the 5th letter, which repeats once.” This tells you nothing about what the word means but rather just how to recognize it if you see it again somewhere. The definition of the word, however, is much, much bigger and more important. Looking at the Online Merriam Webster dictionary, the word “see” has 13 different definitions, depending on how it’s used.

The problem with defining yourself by your job, or the people that surround you, is that you have little or no control over how those things change over your life time. I could say I am an IT professional at Wells Fargo, but I could get laid off next week. Then would I define myself as unemployed? OR is this just merely a description of my current situation. I may say I am Steve’s best friend, but I have no control over what Steve may do in the future, and if I define myself by being Steve’s friend, what happens when Steve does things that no longer earns my friendship?

When you are telling someone about yourself, you are essentially telling them which categories or groups you fall in: people who are married, people who play guitar, people who went to college, people who think guinea pigs are evil, etc. If you want to make yourself memorable to others, your goal should be selecting the appropriate set of groups you belong to that 1) best describe yourself and 2) when combined, provide a unique picture of you. If I tell you I am an IT guy at Wells Fargo… Well, yeah and so are 20,000 other people. If I tell you I am married with 3 kids, well, that doesn’t narrow it down much either. But if I think about what really matters to me and makes me unique, I would come up with something much more compelling:

I am a guitarist for a Christian rock rand, a blogger, and I help develop IVRs (those annoying phone systems that everyone hates) for Wells Fargo. In my free time, I enjoy developing online web sites and applications for non-profit Christian entities and playing MMORPG’s. My wife and I have been happily married for almost 8 years and we have three sons, a 5 year old budding geek, and identical twin 2 year old geeks-in-training.

This is not a contest or who has or is doing the most, or who is most interesting. I am probably more boring than most people. What it is, is a way to present yourself in a positive light, and in a way that leaves a good, lasting impression on people. My description above gives you a lot of details without being overly wordy and also gives a lot of hooks for someone to ask about in more depth. More importantly, I am defining myself more by what I do (guitarist, blogger, geek) and less by those things with which I associate myself. Even more so, I am defining myself, even if somewhat indirectly, with my belief system and principals. I think anyone who read this would understand and I view myself as a Christian and as a tech-savvy dad. Those things, and not my job or my hair loss, are the things that truly define me.

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