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Defining Yourself by "What Do You Do?"


Sharon Lewis is an integrated marketing communications strategist, guest blogger, AARP volunteer, and a member of the AARP Volunteer Leadership Institute. Her areas of expertise cover a wide range of industries--and business models. She lives in NYC.

This is my inaugural blog for AARP NY and so I open with a question from which many of my future posts will follow.  A simple question … yet so difficult: “What do you do?” Does this question fill you with pride or make you recoil in frustration? Aaargh.

Why is the answer to this question so important? Because we are defined by our professional persona.  More often than not, we are seen to be as good as our “last deal” or “our last title” or “How did you impact the P&L?” or “Describe the measureable outcomes of the initiative”.

“What do you do” is not so easy to answer when you are experimenting with lots of different industries and different roles. How do you distill a multi-dimensional experiment in a 30 or 60 second elevator pitch and expect the recipient to “get it?”

Sometimes I feel like I am acting, when in fact I am genuinely trying to convey that what I do has little to do with who I am or who I am trying to become.

I began my career with an MBA in an executive training program at a major financial institution; the world was filled with possibility and I believed I had a clear direction of how best to proceed. I desired to create marketing strategies that fuel the acquisition of new customers and the retention of existing clients, and quickly gained experience in the art of market research, the management of external advertising agencies and the navigation of internal resources to ensure the financial approvals, the sales training and the customer servicing capabilities. It has been a great ride thus far and I am proud of my accomplishments across a broad breadth of industries.

Recently, I have been looking to find new opportunities to apply my skill set. .....some of which are an easier transition to explain than others. Heck, I hope to have another 30 years of active work ahead of me. I want to feel like a pioneer again!

With this in mind, I started to do more volunteer work across a number of different organizations with similar themes: What’s Next, Staying Brain-Sharp and Family Care-giving issues. Lots of media coverage can be found on these subjects, including the timely and relevant AARP resources at Life Reimagined, Brain Health and Family Caregiving.

Similar to the foundations of a good marketing strategy: I am trying to formalize a game-plan for myself. Why?...because we learn who we are –in practice, not in theory—by testing reality, trying new activities, reaching out to new groups……We express interest. We test. We interpret and we incorporate..….No amount of self-reflection can substitute for the direct experience we need to acquire so that we can evaluate the options.  We need to create opportunities with those around us and we need to acknowledge that “new” can be a little bit scary.

Throughout my posts, I will share with you some of my life experiences that motivated me to seek change, along with some articles and peer-related stories that are impacting my own thinking. Being a “people person”, I invite you to join me on my quest to redefine my professional career, and hope you will take a moment to share your own observations. Together we can all reach our dreams.

What do you do and what do you hope to become?

Follow @SharonLewisNYC on Twitter or @AARNY



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