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What do you do?

The Dalai Lama answers: “Nothing.” Great answer.

Personally, I dread this question.

First, because there is no all-encompassing answer. What I do almost depends on what day of the week it is.

Second, the complexity of the answer also depends on who is asking it. If you are my hairdresser, the chances are you don’t really want to hear that yesterday I “helped a client recognise and act on synergies between his offline and online marketing efforts, and thus facilitated a deployment of a new project to harness the value of his market-community”.

Third, because I am involved in such diverse projects, the conversation often turns awkward. If I tell someone I am in “the internet business” and he says he is an artist, is it then necessary for me to mention that I am also hugely involved in some of the best art galleries in Pretoria?

My business card says I am an idea facilitator. Take that at face value, I always say. People either look confused or actually thrilled at the concept. The latter group is the one I really like

The truth is, that I cannot envision myself being pigeon-holed into a limiting job description. I am, of course, lucky in that I work for myself and thus do not really answer to a boss. I am free to be grabbed by projects that I find inspiring, challenging or simply fun.

But the best part of all this is that most people that I meet through the blogosphere and internet in general, even if they have a specific title in the job, are not really tightly bound to specific functions. I know a copywriter who is also getting involved in community building via her company’s website. I know a web application designer who is a powerful voice in promoting the open-source movement. I know a venture capitalist who opened up a chain of fashion stores on the side. We are now freer to do what drives us, which means we are more likely to be living our “optimal life”.

Theo Aspeling recently pointed me to a though-provoking article on “Being yourself for a living”, by Robin Wheeler. The crunch of it is that any career should be premised on three cornerstones:

1. You must do what you enjoy.
2. You must make a contribution to the world.
3. You must generate money.

Wheeler says that if any of these three are missing, you’re not going to be fulfilled. On the other hand, if all three are present, you are living an optimal life. He goes on to offer suggestions on how to implement “being yourself” in your life, your organisation and your community.

If you are reading this blog, then I venture to say that you also struggle to define what it is that you actually do (although the answer in inherently known to you).

So tell us — what do you do? And don’t worry — we’ll understand, even if your hairdresser won’t.

(This is an adapted form of a post that first appeared on my Of Relevance blog)