So, what do you do?
“Well, I used to be a lawyer, but that was many years ago now, but I don’t regret it, it taught me a ton about communication, but anyway, then I owned a health club because I just loved fitness and the mind-body connection, but I hate the way the fitness industry operates, massive, like capital f’n M Massive dysfunction, so I started my own thing and it exploded, then I sold the company and opened a yoga center and fell in love with wellness industry entrepreneurship, but also marketing, so I started to pour myself into the psychology of language and behavior change and action, because, like, in the end that’s what all marketing really is, you know, it’s just psychology, and isn’t it soooo fascinating how we’re wired, hashtag neuroscienceRULZ, and then I totally started geeking out on human behavior and mindset and realized that’s been the common thread, so I started writing about it and I’ve written two books on it and I’m about to start my third and holy crap writing is hard, but fun, and cool, and I sometimes don’t know what I think until I write about it, and then I also really became fascinated as an outgrowth in what makes people tick, so what actually makes for a life well-lived, you know, a good life, not so much “the” good life, like you see in music videos with people posing next to Teslas, but just the core elements, what are the ingredients of a life well-lived, are they universal or unique to each person and then I started to build a media and education business around that and became fascinated, also, with belonging, so now I’m about to write a ton on that and spend a few years researching it and along the way I began to realize that revolutions and movements were stunningly powerful vehicles for belonging, so I deep-dived those puppies and built a framework to help people stop sucking at business as usual and instead create businesses of belonging and I shared the framework for that, trust me I didn’t really want to, but OMFG the reaction when I did, cray-cray, so I did it a few more times as a keynote and people went nuts and wanted help making it happen so I launched a new training, it’s nuts how people are responding and then I’m also a total freak about self-care, because I just believe it’s one of the full-on unlock keys for success, but I’m not just talking success in business, you know success includes money, but it’s not ALL about the benjamins, it’s about bigger stuff, connection, vitality, love, the ability to be fully self-expressed so that also a huge part of what I’m about and, truth is maybe the common thread in all of this is that I love to learn, I love to go deep into the human psyche to figure patterns and systems and pieces of the puzzle that let people get more out of life, and in fact, I once told someone my purpose is to “illuminate the human condition” and I kind of never meant to say it that way, but I got chills when it tumbled out and so did the person I told, so maybe that’s it, but then I told someone else and they’re like “what the hell does that mean?” so I’m still working on it all, but along the way, I just keep researching and creating and making because, at my core, I’m a maker, you know what that is, right, it’s like the hipster word for someone who lives and breaths to create stuff, I’m constantly creating, have been since I was a kid, in fact when I was like 10 I used to go to the junkyard, I know how quaint, right, I grew up in a little water-town with a real old-fashioned junkyard, and I’d throw pieces of beat up old bicycles together and take them home and pull out the hammer, some screws and mountain of duct tape and make frankenbikes, so I’m a maker too, always making physical stuff, but also more etheral stuff, you know like with language, books, media and experiences, oh man, I LURVE to create immersive, transcendent experience that take people from point A and leave them in point B, did this as a club DJ in college, like put me behind the tables and I’ll take 500 people on a journey for 5 hours, don’t ever need to say a word to anyone, I just love to create the container, the vibe, the energy, the emotion, actually did the same thing in yoga as a teacher now that I think about, oh hey, did I mention I not only owned a yoga center, I actually taught for 7 years, what a crazy ride, love seeing people rise above their own negative anchors and flourish, which is becoming this big word these days, btw, but when it really comes down to it, before everything else, I’m a dad and husband, that’s what I “do,” but I don’t think people ever really think about that when they talk about what they do, have you noticed that, so anyway, short and sweet, yeah, that’s me. So, what do YOU do?”
Hello? Hey, where’d you go?
So, what do you do?
Me: “I help people unlock their potential, do work that matters and live better lives.”
Coffee shop dude: “Cool, how?”
Me: “I produce media that shows what’s possible and inspires, create educational experiences and content that teaches you how to operate on a different level and build communities that cultivate belonging and support and empower action.”
Coffee shop dude: “Uhhhhh, so where do I sign up?”
Labels Suck. Until They Don’t.
Nobody wants to be put in a box. We hate labels. I’m not one-dimensional.
I can’t describe what I do or who I am without a painfully long, run-on-and-on-and-on sentence. I do a LOT of different things and I won’t cheapen or minimize or reduce who I am when I describe myself just to make it easier for you to put me in the right human being bin.
Except, you will anyway. You HAVE to.
Because that’s the way the human brain works. We don’t have to like it, we can rail against it. But that doesn’t change the fact. We are wired for pattern recognition. Our brains instantly start to search for pattens, names, boxes that allow us to categorize every new experience and person. If we didn’t do that, it would take massive amounts of energy just to survive each new minute.
So, whether you want to be labeled or not, every person you come in contact with will do just that. Which means, if you don’t label yourself, you risk being labeled whatever they determine is right. And often, that’s radically different than the box or association you’d choose had you been told “you have no option but to choose.”
I’ve fought against this for years. I’ve been misbranded, painfully sometimes, put in boxes, rooms and filed under descriptions that make me cringe. Because I didn’t want to lead with my own label, because son-of-a-bitch I CAN’T BE LABELED.
But I must. You must. Because people must. And they will.
And if you don’t. You’ll most often lose.
So, you’ve got to choose.
Not what you do. But how you guide people to “file you.”
With rare exception, there will be no perfect category. No one bucket that encompasses the fullness that is you and what you “do.” So you’ll have to choose the best of the best or the best of the worst. It’ll leave things out and bundle other things you may not connect with in.
Still you’ll have to choose.
I’d rather be dropped into a file that represents only a slice, though the bigger slice, of who I am and what I do, than be dropped into a folder that says “no damn clue,” or “too busy to understand” or “my brain hurts trying to figure this person out so I’m not gonna” or “toothpaste salesman (nothing against toothpaste salesmen, just not me).”
People can’t easily contextualize, connect you with others who need you or help you build what you’re building unless they can label you. You’ll never be top of mind, nor top of need or top of give.
So, labels may suck if you’re a complex person who casts a wide interest and occupation net. But the brain still needs them.
And if you want to work with others or build something bigger than you, you need them too.
So, what’s yours? Feel free to share in the comments.
Jonathan Fields is a serial-entrepreneur, business strategist, speaker and author. His latest book is Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance. Fields writes about performance-mindset, innovation, leading and entrepreneurship at JonathanFields.com