Bill Blankschaen | October 28, 2013
Want to figure out if what you do defines who you are?
Try introducing yourself without sharing what you do for a living.
If you attended Catalyst East in Atlanta not long ago, you heard a series of session that probed this issue of identity – how and why we are known – to ourselves, to others, and to God. I sat down with Peter Greer, Lab speaker at Catalyst East, and we discussed how the way we introduce ourselves and engage others may be in need of a refresher. Peter called us to pay attention to our intros:
“When you meet someone, do you always lead with ‘Hello, my name is Peter Greer, and I work for HOPE International.’ Is there more to it than that? Not that you go to the extreme and never talk about what you do, but do you really believe that you have an identity apart from the work that you do?”
Does What You Do Define Who You Are?
We seem to think that our job defines us, and yet what we do can and likely will change throughout our life. But who we are – that’s something deeper, something we seldom offer when meeting someone.
What if instead of a resume, we offered our life mission statement. For example I might say “I equip Christians to think, live, and lead with abundant faith.” That’s my personal mission, to be a catalyst for growth in the faith journey of as many Christ followers as possible. Within that description, I could do a lot of stuff. But that’s my heart. It tells you a lot more about my true identity than, “I work here or with them or I have a hand in this.”
I fear some of us would find such clarity intimidating for fear the next question about life mission would be directed to them: “So what’s your life mission?”
I’m not saying we should try to create uncomfortable conversations (although growth requires tension), but to truly know someone, we need to get past rattling off job titles and credentials. What I do may change, but who I am remains.
In some ways, it’s rather like a cruise ship. What we see on the surface is what impresses most of us. The food, the three-story pool slide, the food, the tennis courts, the Broadway shows, the food…. But it’s what lies beneath that determines the success or failure of the voyage. It’s the rather unsightly engines and seemingly insignificant rudder that ultimately have more to do with whether or not we enjoy the journey.
Ten Questions to Discover Someone’s True Identity
One of Peter Greer’s suggestions to fix this problem is to ask better questions when first getting to know someone. Try these introductory questions on to see if they fit you:
So what do you do when you’re not [fill in the blank with his or her occupation]?
How can I be a help to you?
What’s going on in the Kingdom of God that’s really captured your heart of late?
How do you want to be remembered?
How can I best pray for you?
So what do you want to be when you grow up? [insert smile here]
If you could accomplish one thing in life, what would it be?
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
If you could only choose one word to define you, what would you want it to be?
With what person in the Bible do feel you have the most in common? [Hint: If they pick Barabbas, it may be a good time to walk away.]
By intentionally asking meaningful questions, we put the focus on the other person – and invite them to return the relational volley.
We can take it one step further faster if we are willing to be authentic first. If the other person seems reluctant to respond, why not share what’s on your heart of late, if appropriate. By going first, you let them know you are sincere about your offer of an authentic conversation to truly get to know them.
As my friend Dick Savidge of Ministry Coaching puts it: “When we share our resume, we invite comparison; when we share our vulnerability, we invite community.”