There was a time when I would begin my introduction with the two most important parts of my professional identity; my name and job title.
Today, this old habit presents me with a conundrum, triggering a raft of thoughts that race through my mind each time I’m asked, ‘what do you do for a living?’
In the seconds that follow, I might silently ask myself, shall I tell them about the things I can do or the things I have done or the things I am learning to do?
The skills and services I offer are at various stages of development.
In other words, I am a work in progress.
And I have become unclear whether I should position myself as the person I am today, or the person I am trying to become.
After an awkward hesitation, I make up lost time with a rushed response, ‘Hmm, I’m a project manager, how about you?’
Then I feel disappointed.
But I should go easy on myself as it is often better to keep things simple, especially when meeting someone for the first time.
If I had more time, then I might explain further…
During the first decade of my career, I might have used a phrase from the world of cricket and described myself as a useful all-rounder.
When I handed in my notice to my first employer, I was offered a pay rise to stay, and when I turned it down, I was offered a part-time job, working whenever I liked. As we had just bought our first home, this offer was not only flattering but also very welcome. I was one of the few employees who really understood our computer systems, even though my main role was to manage projects. It seemed that being useful was paying off.
And this pattern has continued throughout my career.
I once moved to a marketing department to become a proposition manager. My usefulness led me immediately into programme portfolio management, line management and looking after our largest wholesale accounts. I never learnt anything about proposition management! 🙂
But can you base your career on making yourself useful, or is this a bit like being a jack of all trades, able to do many things but not particularly good at any of them?
I would respond to this with an alternative question: Is it possible to have a long and fulfilling career without developing a number of transferable skills together with a desire to carry on learning, unlearning, relearning, changing and adapting?
I think that if you want to remain in demand, marketable and able to bring value to wide range of business endeavours, then you do indeed need to be prepared to do all of these things.
Specialism is also essential, but not so much for someone in my position whose main role is to lead various projects, teams, activities or change.
I was recently asked by a colleague to facilitate a workshop, just one hour before it was due to start and for a project that I had no knowledge of. First days back from a holiday can sometimes be like that. The workshop was not perfect, but everyone enjoyed it and agreed there were some powerful insights gained along with some helpful next steps.
In a world where there is a continual flow of extraordinary young talent flooding into our workplaces, then it is a privilege to be asked to do this kind of thing.
Afterwards, the same colleague recommended to my management team that I moderate our department’s All Hands Meeting, with several hundred people coming together for a whole day of speeches, presentations, on-stage interviews, workshops and fun.
It seems that sometimes you get noticed for being versatile enough to step into different situations and take them in your stride.
When we live in an era of unprecedented levels of disruptive change – at least in peacetime – then perhaps remaining useful is the only thing I can do. And to do this throughout a long career requires reinvention, time and time again.
As I stated earlier, I am still a work in progress and not completely sure where all of this will take me.
In the meantime, I’ve updated my job title from Project Manager to Facilitator of change, scrum master, blogger, agile and digital transformation enthusiast. Like me, that too is work in progress! 🙂
How about you? Have you also faced the same dilemmas as me when introducing yourself? I would love to read your comments and thoughts on this.
Thank you for reading.