When meeting new people, most of them would ask what do I do for a living. I really never understood why. It doesn’t define who I am. I rarely ask people what they do because it really doesn’t matter to me. My opinion wouldn’t be any more favourable or less if they’re a doctor or a waiter. But wait..there are exceptions of course; pimps, escorts, flight attendants, terrorists, porn star etc. Flight attendants because they’re never around. It’s a persons character and personality that I was more interested in. If I was a waiter and met a doctor we could still have lots in common, and besides it’s can be fun, we can role play the doctor.
When we meet people, the first piece of information we share is often tied to our career.
“Hi, I’m Lisa.”
“Nice to meet you, Lisa. What do you do?”
It’s a way to make sense of social order. But in many other countries, people achieve the same goal by sharing what village their family is from, or how many children they have, or how old they are.
In Canada, career is king.
Even in our justice system, strong assumptions are made about who a person is based on what they do.
A few years ago, I was Juror #12 in a murder trial. With the Tori Stafford trial generating so much discussion over the past few weeks, I can’t help but recall the experience.
I was surprised to see how occupation was such a key factor for lawyers on both sides when deciding whether someone was challenged or accepted.
In fact, the lawyers had access to only three pieces of information about those in the potential pool. What we looked like, where we lived in the GTA, and our occupation.
That’s it. The stakes were high and the lawyers made their choices based on what they believed to be true about business owners, teachers, analysts, priests, etc. Never had I seen a more meaningful demonstration of the importance our society places on occupation.
As we spent days and weeks together, it was interesting to see our own preconceived notions about each other fall away. We, too, had made initial assumptions based on the three data points available.
With occupation and identity so closely tied together, it’s no wonder people find the idea of changing jobs or careers overwhelming. Who are we if we can no longer introduce ourselves as “Bob in IT” or “Sarah at XYZ Company?”
So, here are two suggestions to see yourself and others as more than a job title:
Introduce yourself to people you meet using something other than your occupation. Where you were born, the hobbies you enjoy, the problems you like solve, anything really, as long as it isn’t your job. And, when you meet someone, ask them a question that isn’t tied to occupation. Open yourself up to the broad range of personalities and perspectives that can’t be shoehorned into a career.
There are many other experiences and factors that define who you are. Introducing yourself with your current job title ensures you’re constantly repeating something that one day may no longer be true. You are conditioning yourself to “be the job” – even if it is a job you don’t like or don’t want (or don’t have) anymore.
Career change doesn’t have to be threatening to your identity or risky to your sense of self. You are much more than your job. Once you believe this, others will too.
Lisa Taylor is the President of Toronto-based Challenge Factory, the only company in Canada where you can test-drive your next career. Challenge Factory provides individuals and companies with innovative talent and career programs targeting new graduates, mid-career professionals and Boomers seeking Legacy Careers. With clients across the country, Lisa is often called upon to speak and write about topics related to career transition, employment trends and workplace demographics.