I spent last week at a training. I was early to a session so sat with my crochet basket watching people (developing characters, of course). An older man introduced himself, shook my hand, asked me what I did. Understandable in a work environment.
He was the keynote speaker. And he talked for a couple hours about leadership, about how to change energy at work, about how we focus on what we do rather than who we are and what our stories are. Once he mentioned stories I started paying attention.
Afterwards, I pointed out that his speech had been about who people are and asked him why, then, when he’d introduced himself to me, the first thing he asked me was what I do.
Granted, as I told him, if some stranger had asked me ‘who are you’ or asked me to tell them a story about myself, a big defensive wall would have immediately come up. Because it’s not normal in society to ask who we are. It is normal to ask what we do, and to judge and label and assume based on what that label is. On what we do.
Which really, has nothing to do with who we are.
He told me I was observant (of course, that’s what storytellers do, and it was smart of him to compliment his audience), and said I was right about how people would react.
If stranger said, ‘tell me about yourself, tell me about who you are, tell me a story about you,’ how would you react? What would you tell them? Would you be able to answer immediately or would you have to pause and think? Not only because it wouldn’t be something you expected, but because maybe you also label yourself by what you do.
Honestly, it’s also about words. If a stranger said to me ‘tell me about yourself’ I might feel my personal space encroached upon (in spite of this public blog, I am a private person). But I wouldn’t feel as defensive as if the stranger said to me ‘who are you?’.
But the two questions ask the same thing, don’t they?
He also asked us during the session to tell the person seated next to us what gave us joy, and to think about if the thing that gave us joy, that was our passion, aligned with what we did.
Tell me a story about who you are.