Who are you again?

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The first time you meet someone, often the conversation opener is “Hi, so what do you do?” Your response to this innocent question will likely determine the direction and tone of the rest of your chat. The person you have just met is likely to unconsciously relate to you in  a certain way based on the title or job you shared with them. Now, before you judge them too harshly, you should know that you are probably guilty of doing the same with other people and even with yourself.

Have a read of the sample responses below that show how we are often biased by a person’s title.

Oh you are a doctor? That’s fascinating, can you have a quick look at this rash.

Oh you are a pilot?  That sounds exciting, tell me about your favourite city

Oh you are a CEO?  That must be tough, tell me more about your company.

Oh you are a garbage collector, um…ah….did you see the footy on the weekend?

Regardless of who we are we are all influenced to some degree by what people do and their titles.  We often determine a person’s place in society by their job and title, even more so when it comes to ourselves.  I have found that it is a rare person indeed who is able to differentiate between who they are, and what they do.

Our attachment to titles becomes very evident when we lose our job, our title is taken away or we may lose privileges and respect we believe we are entitled to (pun intended). Often our self-esteem takes a hit, and we end up questioning our self-worth.  Depending on the value we place on our title, this can cause us to fall into  a depressed state as we try to re-identify ourselves and our place in the world.  I must admit, I have been guilty as charged!

Now, the egalitarians among us will deny being influenced by the roles one does, and will vehemently argue we should all treat everybody the same.  However, in reality this is easier said than done.

Recently in a fascinating experiment undertaken by The Lab in conjunction with Canon Australia (see 6 photographers 1 man).  Six different photographers were asked to photograph the same person based on the (made up) role he shared with them. The roles he represented were:  a millionaire, recovering alcoholic, hero, ex inmate, fisherman and a psychic.  The results were amazing.  It was difficult to recognise that it was same person captured in each of the images created by the photographers. It provides a great visual representation how our brain creates biases when people tell us what they do.  It also shows how strongly our subconscious is influenced by how we interact and engage with people.

Our ego often associates our self-worth with our titles and perceived status in society and encourages us to wear them as badges of honour for all to admire. The stronger we believe our role or title is truly who we are, the harder it hits when the facade cracks or it is no longer part of us.

Newly retired people often struggle with their identity once they don’t have a title to label themselves, newly unemployed people will refer to the job they used to do rather than be labelled as unemployed. I have seen this on numerous occasions as organisations restructure and make people redundant. Strong proud people from all levels of the organisations including executive and board levels forced to face themselves for who they really are and not what the role or title bestows upon them.

It’s heart-wrenchingly tough to watch as they fall further and further into despair and depression trying to hang onto the external accolades.  Before long, hopefully, they start to find the real person they are, stripped bare of all of the titles and grow to like that person.

During well-being group work you are actively encouraged not to label yourself with a title. This is to ensure that you, and others, don’t approach each other with preconceived beliefs and biases based on your job. Strip away the titles and everyone is equal, and while we may have differing issues ultimately it is who we are beneath the external uniforms, stories and images that really matter.

The hidden beauty of having a mid-life crisis on a regular basis is that it forces you to challenge the premise of who you really are.  It makes you dig deeper to actually find the real you, admittedly if this leads to a younger partner and a red sports car then chances are you are still trying to avoid having to deal with the real you.

Stripping away the titles and statuses is confronting, and not something that is achieved over a weekend, a week or even a year. It is an ongoing journey that is often preceded by some sort of catalyst that leads the person to change their way of thinking. Some of the precursors to undertaking this work are often significant and disruptive life events, such as losing a loved one, losing a job, or being displaced from your normal routine. All of these lead to your mind scrambling to try and adjust to find some stability again. It’s trying to make sense of the crumbling stories you had built around you.

So next time you meet someone, try to use a different introduction. Rather than starting with “Hi… what do you do for a living?” maybe try “Hi….what do you love doing” and get to know the real person.

© Gary Waldon and garywaldon.com 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gary Waldon and garywaldon.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Who are you again?

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