I recently filled out an application for an innovative networking meeting, and one of the questions on the application was this:
Describe yourself in 50 words or less.
Now, you’d think that would be pretty easy, right? Well, if you’ve ever tried to write a 100-word bio for anything, you already know it’s not. 50 words? Even more challenging. But, beyond the word count, I found this to be a unique test, and a huge opportunity to self-reflect. I mean, to really describe myself that succinctly, I have to know myself pretty unambiguously, right?
Right. And do I? Well…I found that I do, but it took me a minute to parse it out. And it might take you that minute too, but it’s a minute worth spending.
First of all, this task is a challenge because it’s not a way of asking me what I do. There was a different spot for that. And I think that’s where most of us go about 90% of the time. We don’t introduce ourselves, we introduce our professions. If you think about the last ten people you met and how you introduced yourself, you can probably look back and see that the conversation almost always goes directly to work, and almost always immediately. Especially in a professional setting, we tend to connect and exchange with the business and forget about the person. That rubs off, and it ends up being a big part of how we naturally describe ourselves – we identify by what we do for money, and little else.
Second, it wasn’t really asking me what I do, or what I am, personally either. Probably the next most popular response to a question like this would be, “I’m a mom, a friend, a sister.” Which, of course, are all accurate. But that’s still not really describing ourselves. It’s talking about a particular part of our identity. Again, it becomes an accepted and expected way of describing ourselves.
So, I mean, what else is there? Well, that’s the crux. And also the opportunity, and the fun part.
I had to think for a while about how to describe myself beyond those two big buckets. I definitely felt a strong pull and thought immediately about my work, which is a large part of my self. But as I began to explore more deeply beyond that, as I knew I needed to do, I thought about what I like. I thought about what I’m passionate about. I thought about some of my personality traits. I thought about what, and who, matters to me. I thought about what gets me the most fired up, what I feel in my soul every day. I thought about what I would want a stranger to know about me immediately and powerfully that would give them enough of an idea of who I am for them to be able to decide they’d want to continue a conversation with me.
Soon, I had a huge list, a page full of ideas, and a far more in-depth and meaningful picture of myself than solely my job.
Because, ultimately, there is, indeed, a far more in-depth and meaningful picture than any one thing, for all of us.
You’re more than a mom, a wife, an employee. You’re even more than a knitter or a gardener or a movie buff. One-word category descriptors don’t cut it. Because each of those things looks and feels different in your life. Each of those things has layers and contributes in unique ways to who you are, to shaping your self. And how you show up in those unique ways, how it all manifests, changes the very picture of your description.
What’s so great about even beginning to think about this is that it inspires the thinking itself to go beyond a canned response, to fitting into any certain description. Like, buzzwords are cool, but if you want to do more, to be more, you’ve got to know more. And if you don’t start by knowing more about yourself than anyone or anything else, you’re already starting at a disadvantage.
When’s the last time you allowed yourself to think in this kind of depth about…yourself? Is it something you avoid? Is it something you have a stock answer for and don’t see much need for beyond that? Do you think maybe it’s time to do it? That maybe you’ve changed since the last time you reflected? Or perhaps you could better communicate yourself in the ways you want the world to know about?
Do you see that just maybe, getting a clearer picture of yourself could make the picture of your life a lot clearer too?
It always starts with self. Even when it’s not about you, which it so rarely is, it still starts with knowing yourself and where you’re coming from, what matters to you. Knowing yourself intimately translates directly into how you’re able to impact the world outside and around you.
So, how about this – next time you sit down to journal and don’t know where to start, start here: describe yourself.
And because the world is the world and everything is bite-sized and fast-paced, boil that down: describe yourself in 50 words or less.
You might be surprised and excited by what you learn. You might even have some fun with it. Let me be clear though – the point here is not to come up with a new elevator pitch for yourself. The point here is to be unafraid to get to know yourself better, outside of the usual descriptive parameters. You’re not like anyone else. Most of the time, you’ll have plenty of words to explain that to someone.
But if you only have 50 words to get your whole self across, make them count.
My 50 words today: My life motto is a Dolly Parton quote: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Who I am doesn’t fit a box, but if I could be any animal, I’d be a housecat, my happy place is in the mountains, and my Harley-Davidson is my prized possession. Send me an email and tell me yours!