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The “What do you do” Identity Crisis

When you work for someone else, the first sentence of your answer to the question — “what do you do?” (and your Twitter bio) is more or less taken care of. It’s on your business card. It’s on the org-chart. That’s who you are.

They provide you with an identity. How gracious.

They: “So, what do you do?”

You: I am the Assistant Regional Manager at Dunder Mifflin (or is it assistant to the Regional Manager?)

It’s that simple. You don’t think about it. It’s just ingrained. It becomes your identity. It’s who you are.

“Oh, you work at Amazon?”

Working for a big and well known organization like Amazon also makes for “feel good” starter conversations with strangers.

You get in an Uber ride, and engage in a friendly conversation with the driver. It’s now only a matter of time before they pop the question — “so, what do you do”.

For years, I had the response to this question locked and loaded in my brain. No thinking required. Fractions of a second later, I answer — “I work at Amazon”.

That’s usually met with some sort of excited response — “oh, you work at Amazon?”.

Sometimes that’s followed up with — “what do you do at Amazon?”. So glad you asked. I’ve got that pre-packaged and ready to go too — “I work on the Alexa team”.

More excitement, more Amazon related conversations.

End of ride. You feel good about yourself. It’s a dopamine hit for your self-esteem. It’s exhilarating. You tweet about it. You go on about your life. Rinse and repeat.

But, if you take that away, who am I now?

This is a really hard question to answer when you’re working for yourself.

One approach to answer that is the Tim Ferris approach — “I am a drug dealer”. End of conversation.

I am realizing that part of the game of working for yourself is to break that glass, and re-wire that identity.

So, who the fuck am I, and what do I do exactly?

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter at @amit.