Hey, it’s Alvin!
Back in Dive 5, I talked about how a (job) title destroys your self-worth. Because a title has no inherent value. People aren’t remembered for their titles as much as the value they added to other people’s lives. So, one of the takeaways from that dive was to just forget about titles.
So, I was asked, “but, then, how do you introduce yourself?”
Suppose you don’t want to be defined by a title or the role related to that title. If I came up to you and said, “Hi, I’m Alvin. Nice to meet you. What do you do (for a living)?” How would you answer?
There are two ways to look at this:
How do you define yourself?
How do others define you?
On defining yourself…
An introduction will always be an oversimplification. It will never offer a complete picture of who you are.
But first impressions matter. So, introduce yourself in a way that sets the first impression you want to leave.
You can think of yourself how you want. Shocking, right?
When people ask me what I do, I could say, “I’m a software developer.”
If I don’t want to define myself by a role, I could also just say what I do. “I make software.”
Remember: what you do doesn’t define the entirety of who you are.
Just because I tell people I make software doesn’t mean I only ever think of myself as a software developer.
That kind of life would be much too boring for me.
I find it helps to remind myself that how I describe myself to others doesn’t have to be how I see or think about myself all the time.
But what about how others see you?
On others defining you
Some people are concerned that others will typecast them into a specific role. Like, “shoot, if I tell them I’m a software developer, they might only see me as a software developer. Then they’ll start asking me to help fix their printers all the time. But I’m so much more.”
This is why I like to turn to the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
I accept that I don’t have ultimate control over how others perceive me. There are things I can do to influence their perceptions. I can dress a certain way, speak a certain way, and behave a certain way. I can frame how I describe myself. But how others ultimately choose to see me, define me, and describe me is up to them.
Even the most influential people at the time of this writing can’t control what others think of them.
Logan Paul is an internet personality many people love, and many people hate. No matter what he’s done, good or bad, his lovers still love him and his haters still hate him. If that, alone, isn’t enough to show how little control he has over how people see him, consider that this is a person who’s done some despicable things in the past. He apologized. Not that it mattered because the egregiousness of his acts are permanent fixtures to his name and brand—no PR stunt can erase them from observers’ minds.
MrBeast is a YouTuber with millions of fans around the world. Earlier this year, he paid for 1000 people to get cataracts surgery to restore their sight. Sounds like a good deed, doesn’t it? Despite that, he was still criticized for it. Then, he donated 20,000 shoes to South African kids, and was criticized for that, too. More recently, he paid for 1000 people to get hearing aids. Guess what happened?
Scott Adams, famous for his workplace-themed Dilbert comics, spent years applying and teaching techniques on influence and persuasion. Now, because of some unfortunate remarks, he’s branded a racist. You’d think an expert on influence and persuasion could avoid such a fate, but apparently not.
I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of what Logan Paul, MrBeast, and Scott Adams did. My point is just that you have much less control over what others think of you than you might think.
You can do the most horrible things and there might still be people who love you.
You can do the most wonderful things and there will still be people who hate you.
You can be a skilled hypnotist and people still won’t change their mind about you.
So, I decided to stop caring about how others define me.
If I tell someone I make software, and they just think of me as a software developer, so be it.
They can think about me how they want.
Frankly, I don’t give a damn.
Some people see this as a license to be mean to others. That’s false. Not caring what others think of you isn’t the same as being mean. You can hold the door open for someone out of kindness and not care what they think of the gesture. These are two different things. Holding the door open only because you care what others think is called politeness. I dive more into politeness vs. kindness in Dive 25.
The benefit of caring less about how others define you is you get more freedom back. Because you’ll spend less time and effort trying to shape other people’s perceptions. You free yourself to focus on things you can control.
So, back to the original question: if your role doesn’t define you, how do you introduce yourself?
Your answer doesn’t have to change how you define yourself, if you choose to define yourself at all.
Your answer will set an initial impression others have on you. But beyond that, you don’t have much control.
So, just set the first impression you want. Because that’s the only thing you can control in the moment.
I hope you enjoyed this dive Below the Surface of self-defining roles. Reply to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or comments. How would you answer the question? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading. Make your best first impression. And I’ll see you in the next one.
Love this essay Alvin. It is unclear to me how we ever got to such narrow definitions of who we are and what we do. But I don't like it.
So many of us have more than one interest and yet the corporate world somehow hijacked identity.