Be Who You Are, Not What You Do

stir fry in wok

This is a story all about how….

OK, I’m not gonna drop the whole song. But I could (that earns me a few cool points, right?).

OK. Serious. People. Some of you are confused! And your confusion is turning you into a liar. And lying is bad. But you’re not bad. What the hell am I talking about? I’m talking about this…

When someone asks you to tell them about yourself, one of the first things you probably say is, “I’m an [insert job title here] at/for [insert cool company name here]. If your job title doesn’t accurately describe what you do, or if your title is made up of industry jargon (like my former job title, UX/UI Front End Developer) you might go on to fill in the blanks with a short description of what your title actually means.

I may be the first so say this to you, but some of you are lying.

I know. I’m rude as hell. I have a lot of nerve. Of course you’re telling the truth. You really do work at Cool Company Inc.

That’s not the lie.


Let me tell you about my friend, Pat. Pat introduces herself like this: “I’m Pat. I’m an Account Manager…” Convincing. Seems honest. But, Pat’s lying.

WTF, Naya? How are you just going to call her a liar?

Fine. I’ll stop calling people liars. After I make my point.

Meet Pat

Pat works as an Account Manager, but it’s not who she is and it’s definitely not what she is first. Pat is a mother, a dancer, a Breaking Bad addict. But she didn’t tell us that. She identified herself as a role at a company.

Why is this a problem? Because Pat actually really loves dancing. She loves teaching her daughter to dance. There’s more to Pat than her 9-5.

If you think I’m about to get all preachy about something—you’re right.

Today, Pat clocks steps in the office at 8:42 am everyday and manages accounts. Three years from now, she’ll be running a dance class for young girls on the weekends. Eventually she’ll remember that this is what she’s actually passionate about. Soon after, she’ll be starting a small dance school.

Will she still be an Account Manager then? Nope. Because she never really was.

My point: who you are might not the same as what you do for a living.

Expect your brand to grow bigger than you plan for it to. Today, you might be doing a lot of work as a garbage collector or as a personal yoga instructor or as an underwater basket weaver, but in a few years from now you might develop a brand that encompasses many more things that make life easier for a whole lot of people—a whole lot of people who might not trust you to help with those things because you didn’t establish that trust early on.

Remember Google?

Consider this household name: Google.

I remember when Google first made an appearance in my life. I was in middle school. Please don’t do the math. My teacher was incredibly excited about this new search engine that was faster than all the others. At the time, I was living a happy little life, impressed with myself for figuring out that you didn’t have to Ask Jeeves an entire question to get search results. was as fast as I needed it to be (at that time). I really didn’t care about Google.

My teacher went on to point out the area where Google lets you know how many search results it garnered and that it did this in under a second. Google still does this, though I feel like none of us give a shit these days.

Googel Search Result Time

While Google probably got those results in a fraction of a deep breath, the internet connection in my school wasn’t fast enough for me to appreciate it much. However, eventually, I did start to feel that Google gave me better results than Jeeves (sorry, bruh) and I ultimately converted.

That was many years ago. Google was once identified as a search engine. Today Google is everything (whether we like it or not). It’s in your pocket, on your wrist, in your wallet, on your eyes. It’s everywhere. Even if you live under a rock, Google has your location mapped on Google Earth.

Google was never just a search engine. The search engine was a service Google provided to users—just as Pat isn’t just an Account Manager, but Account Management is a service she provides to one company. Google is, and has been, a company that fills needs for internet users. At the time, the need was speed. Now? Now it’s whatever you can imagine.

Cool Story, Bro…

That was a nice story, but what’s your point, Naya? My point is that what you are might not be synonymous with the service that you provide at this time. You might not be leaving yourself room to grow if you decide very firmly that what you are is exactly what you do.

Maybe instead of calling yourself an Aerobics Instructor, you’re a Well-Being Specialist that is currently leading aerobics courses. This introduction has much more growth potential.

It could sound like I’m trying to help you fluff up your resume, but I’m really not (I should write a post on the right way to do that, though (I created a guide to improving your resume)). What I’m trying to do (and feel free to let me know if I’m failing at it on Twitter) is to get you to think bigger about who you are and understand that what you actually do right now is only a small part of who you are.

This way (let’s use the aerobics instructor example again) when you write a book about nutrition and start a podcast about meditation, you won’t be seen as an aerobics instructor who now thinks they’re an expert on all things well-being, but as the Well-being Specialist you’ve always been who’s now sharing more knowledge than you were in the past.

So, be who you are…

This summer I’m delivering a free, online program called Side Hustle Summer School that will help you work on who you really are while you continue to do what you have to do.

Save your seat for Side Hustle Summer School now!

(Side Hustle Summer School 2016 has closed, but if you’re still looking for some guidance, check out Side Hustle Business School)

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