The second or third question in virtually any introduction is, “So, what do you do?” What’s your answer to that question? For most people it has something to do with their career, job title, or the company they work for. It makes sense. Our identity is tied to the value that we bring into the world and historically that value means our profession.
Back in the day our profession was actually a part of our name - George the Barber,
Bob the Builder, Dora the Explorer...that’s how a lot of last names were first created.
In earlier generations, people tended to have the same profession and work at the same company for their entire working life. For many people, their profession and company weren’t just a huge component of their identity, but also a real source of pride.
But that was the old world. Things have changed.
Are you Familiar with the New World?
In the new world it doesn’t really matter where you went to school, what your major was, what your profession is, what company you work for, or what job title is on your business card. Seriously. Unless you're a doctor, college majors mean less then ever. People switch careers more frequently than ever. People change companies about every three years. Everyone has an impressive-sounding job title (“Account Executive” can mean anything from entry level telemarketer to an executive in charge of a major business account). No one really takes resumes at face value...they tend to be meaningless.
Even though everyone knows that these things basically mean nothing, it still winds up being the main way we introduce ourselves and communicate our value. Whether we want our identity to have a lot to do with our job or not, we still introduce ourselves as “I’m [name] and [description of job].”
There is a disconnect here because in our hearts we don’t want our value to be tied to something so uncertain and meaningless as our company or career. We want our value to be tied to something that we own. Something that can’t be taken from us. Most of us don’t want someone else to hold our identity hostage…we want the freedom to define ourselves and the control of our own identity.
But many of us are stuck in the old world thought process.
The New World is Full of Risk and Opportunity
A special few have noticed this new world and taken full advantage of it. They recognize that careers and companies have limited security and give little real value. They’ve decided that they need to make their own value, their own identity, so that the “what do you do?” question takes on a completely different meaning.
As the world is moving toward this intense individualism, the barrier to entry in business and mass communication has almost disappeared. A guy with a laptop can build a multi-million dollar business with nothing more than high quality advice and really solid marketing skills. A girl with a desktop can deliver news, information, and advice and build a following without having to climb a corporate ladder at a newspaper, magazine, or television station. An actor can produce a show watched by millions without getting a television deal.
This combination means that anyone with motivation has the means by which to create their own value and their own identity. Everyone has an ability to create proof of their talent, knowledge, and skills. We no longer have to rely on our resumes, references, companies, or work experiences to define our value. We can set off and create something that offers tangible proof of it.
That idea can be a bit scary. Many of us actually rely on the fact that no one really knows what anyone is actually worth. If no one really has proof then corporate success is up to the person who talks a good game or networks the best. If we were required to prove our worth we wouldn’t even know how to do it. We’d probably fall back and describe a past work challenge that we may or may not be exaggerating. If you actually have to put something out there to prove your value then what happens if it’s not good enough? Putting yourself on the line in that way can be terrifying.
Because it might not be good enough…yet.
The artists have the right start in this new world. For an artist it rarely matters where you studied or where you’ve worked, it matters what you can create. Resumes mean little. Portfolios speak volumes. The conversation is less “this is what I will be able to do” and more “this is what I’ve done already.” That’s how artists have to demonstrate their value because people demand visual proof.
Good salespeople have the right start in this world. They can point to sales data to show results in graphs and percentages that aren’t easily exaggerated. And of course those with successful online businesses or blogs can point people to their website and traffic/conversion data to demonstrate their value.
What These Changes Mean For You Today
Now this isn’t just a call to arms about becoming an online entrepreneur or a blogger (although both those things are certainly strong starting points), but I am saying that if you cannot easily prove your value to the world and to the marketplace by pointing to something that you’ve created or accomplished, then the new business world is leaving you behind.
If you do have a blog, or a business, or a portfolio, or anything like that then you should have the mindset that it equals your value. It’s not enough to put out interesting articles or optimize your opt in rate or any of that kind of stuff. What you do is your value. What you say is your value. Your impact in the lives of others is your value. It is no longer just a hobby or a side project or a money-making scheme. With Google, Facebook, and the rest of social media connecting everything to everyone, what you put out there defines you.
Now this article is a pretty heavy/serious one, which I typically avoid. In fact, I’m normally the guy who shows people how to stop taking themselves so damn seriously when it comes to their online business or blog or life. But I feel strongly that anyone who is not actively proving and improving their value in a public way will be missing out in this new world. I also feel strongly that anyone already out there who isn’t looking at their venture as, at least partially, a demonstration of their value to the world will be left behind by those who do.