I was very fortunate to have worked for a boss who allowed me to create my own job title just as long as it does not have the word “Chief” in it. So I claimed the title “Emperor of Project Management.” It was amusing at that time and sure to get a chuckle when I was asked “What do you do?” whether it is in the office or in networking events.
However, things changed when I was laid off. First of all, I do not like the phrase “laid off”. It has such a negative connotation. I wish there was another word for it. The corporate world use the polite term “Reduction in Force” but then people changed it into a verb by saying “I was RIFed”. I would rather use the term “Job Seeker.”
Things changed when I became a Job Seeker. Inevitably, during one of the functions I was attending with my kids and other parents, I was asked the question “So, what do you do?” I felt like I had a big neon sign on my back that said “laid off” and I could not tell them that I was still the “Emperor.” The best I could do is mumble the words “I’m in transition” while looking down at the floor.
I felt like I was subhuman because I know what’s behind that seemingly innocuous first question we often ask of strangers. It meant “How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status? How do I compare to you? Are you worth my time?”
A couple of times I tried to dodge the question by saying “I’m a Dad of three boys and we like to go fishing and hang out together.” I still get in a tight spot when they follow up with a more direct “Where exactly do you work?” Whenever I encounter these questions I often end up writing an entire page in my journal with reflections of why I felt like dirt. I remember gathering my kids to tell them that if anyone asks what I do, tell them I’m retired. “I used to be a Rocket Scientist, but I’m now retired, get it?” “Dad, I didn’t know you were a Rocket Scientist, can we still buy that video game?” Later on, I found that this could backfire and hinder my chances of getting employed.
Since joining the LA Fellows I learned that I can control how to respond to these situations. There are times when strangers just want to strike up a conversation or engage in small talk. I see the possibility of networking. These days, I respond according to the situation. I really enjoy volunteering for my nonprofit and there was a time when I confidently said “I’m a Grant Writer” looking at them straight in the eye. It even surprised some people who were close to me knowing that I’m not employed, - or am I? In that particular situation, I found out that the other person was also a job seeker.
The best response however, is just telling them that I’m a Project Management Professional looking for better opportunities. It’s a fact, these days people who are employed will need to continually look for better opportunities. It’s also a matter of which small voice in my head I choose listen to: Am I a victim of the situation? Am I the captain of my ship?
Next time someone asks you the question, “What do you do?” Tell them what you are passionate about.
I’m passionate about sharing what I know. As an LA Fellow, I continue to learn and challenge myself. Most of all, I am an active job seeker, that’s what I do.
By the way, I’m no longer the Emperor; I’m here to serve you.