A Recent Social Experiment that Reveals How MerPreneurs Talk About What They Do
Personally, after I broke out of the corporate jail of my family business in marketing, and did my own art/ music/archetypes/wellness/teaching/spiritual/business thing, I was going in every direction like a kid let loose in a candy store.
But I was literally terrified every time someone asked me “What you do?”
I was terrified for three reasons.
1. I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed.
Because I was doing so many different things I didn’t know how to tell people what I did without being pigeon-holed by the first thing on the list that came out of my my mouth.
I had seen my whole life purpose from what could have been my death bed, but I hadn’t learned to integrate the whole of myself at that point yet, and was still identifying with all of my parts, my different passions, interests and skills.
I felt like I needed to hear who they were first, what their interests were, so I could identify myself with something they could relate to. But it felt like I was evading the question.
2. I was living on my wits.
This question scared me too because after surviving a 3 year struggle for my life with cancer I had gone deep in debt to the natural medicine I used. But despite the financial pressure, there was no part of me that would again abandon my freedom to the corporate world or another job for that matter.
So when someone asked me what I did, it was loaded on my side with the unconscious fear of not surviving - because the answer could make or break whether someone wanted to work with me or refer me to others.
3. I wasn’t clear.
And it freaked me out because I had no clarity about exactly who my work was perfect for, or the exact results they would get from working with me.
For one example, when I had my yoga teacher hat on I was trying desperately to promote my yoga classes. So for that reason only, I was busy shouting out that “I’m a yoga teacher, yoga is for everybody!”
That didn’t even begin to describe the whole of me, or who I am naturally connected with and wired to help. It filled my classes, but painfully, with a tonne of work to walk each one through the door.
I thought if I was going to fill up my yoga classes I had to be a yoga teacher. Yes, I taught yoga, but also so much more!!!
The worst part was that by identifying myself by this tool of yoga that I used to help people, I suddenly put myself in competition with every other yoga teacher on earth. Ugh...
Trying to paint a bigger picture of what I did, I would sometimes give a grocery list - coaching, singing and playing guitar, guiding meditation, giving thought for meaning and purpose, healing, soothing and teaching people how to take care of themselves, mentally emotionally and physically. But people’s eyes glazed over when I did, so I stuck to ‘yoga teacher’.
Singing the praises of yoga, I was just promoting the yoga industry. And it didn’t need my help as it grew to a point where a decade after I began my 8 trips to study in the foothills of the Himalayas in India, there was practically a yoga studio on every corner.
By defining myself by the tools I used to get people results, rather than the results themselves, my true self and much greater purpose remained hidden from those it’s natural for me to help.
And worse it was hidden even from myself. Without knowing it I had reduced myself in identity down to a tool. And no matter how good a tool is, that’s just not who we are!
When someone asks you “What do you do?”, they could be looking for a range of different information.
When you learn to pay attention to the actual reason behind the question it will help you create empathy for them, know how to answer so you can come across with clarity and your dignity.
Starting a Conversation
Someone may ask because simply, because they may not know another way to start a conversation with someone they don’t know. “What do you do?” is a socially acceptable gateway to begin getting to know each other.
In a world that is getting more and more disconnected and dead to meaningful interaction and relationships by the second, even when it made me uncomfortable, I still welcomed this interest that expresses a natural curiosity to see the world through another’s eyes.
In other cases, you may sense that someone is asking you this question because they are looking for a way to compare themselves to you. They may want to see where they stand with you, and maybe even to see who is superior.
In the patriarchal and pride-based society we are on the constant search for who is superior. So then they know how to view or treat you according to your “work worth”.
Some responses that show the aversion we have to this unnatural jockeying: How do you feel when you get asked, “What do you do?
“It immediately fires up my defense mechanism...”
“I realize this person is not interested in me, but merely his or her perception of who he or she sees at that moment. I walk away...again.”
“I say I avoid silly questions like that.”
“I usually say "I do a lot of things" since I don't like careers being attached to my value.”
“Ugh, I dread the question.” ***
Some great comebacks of playful (or even cheeky) responses offered by those who responded on my Facebook thread:
If you sense this comparison is happening, you might find playful ways to answer that will steer the conversation away from comparison to true connection.
“What I love doing is...” (I love this one because it leaves you much more room than sharing how you make money.)
“I blink and stare blankly and say, "But what does that even mean???"”
“Whatever it takes!”
“Whatever God asks of me!”
"As little as I can get away with. You?"
“I panic, throw up a mask and pretend to be clever.”
The Casual Interview
People are generally consumed with the problems they face on a daily basis. Even though they are asking, ‘What do you do?’ they may actually be asking, ‘How might you be able to help me solve my situation?’
They may take a round about way of searching for solutions as if they are just browsing around. Or they may be looking for services and solutions outright, and by asking you what you do are casually interviewing you to see if it might be a fit for you to work together.
Gathering Community Resources
And they may be a Connector type who is always getting to know the people offering services their community so they can be a go-to person for sharing good resources. If you feel pressured by this question, answering to this person who considers themselves a centre of reliable referrals can be even more terrifying.
I got 3 kinds of answers:
They told me what they did.
About a third those who responded to the post misread it and first, and just told me what they did. Like I was asking them what they did and they just answered, matter of factly. Fascinating!!!
I’m wondering if it’s such a deep program in us that we feel a duty or obligation to answer this question when asked. With no judgement to them at all, it’s an interesting reflex to just cough up this information.
We live in a day when the powers that be are ravenously gathering and eating up data about us, so they know how to capture our attention and our buying power, and ultimately how to control us and choose against those of us who don’t make good slaves in a system. Perhaps this is a sign of that???
2. Cynical and loathing.
There were those who were cynically loathing of the question, calling it demeaning, stupid, irrelevant…these are the Rebels Mermaids in my community who know something is fishy about this question.
I think there’s loathing responses to it because it’s an invasive question. Translated, ‘What do you do?’ literally means ‘How do you make money to survive?’
In a culture that honours privacy and secrecy about how we earn our money, how we survive as human, this question is somewhere offensive and I totally get why it’s met with a sense of annoyance or even hostility.
3. It was welcomed.
There were several responses from the MerPreneurs in my community doing their outside the box thing who welcome the chance to say what they do because that is how they spread the good word about their life’s work and show how their soul fits in with the collective.
It’s an important part of my business coaching, to make sure that my clients know exactly how to answer this question. They need to be able to get across in a clear and understandable way who they work for and what results they help them get.
Once this hurdle is jumped and a clear message is born, a lot of pressure comes off… and the question ‘What do you do?’ stops bringing on an anxiety attack.
For many they described that getting asked was a nightmare. Because while they have magic to offer, their thing (if it’s their unique life purpose) has never even been done before.
The pressure of the soul’s calling causes them to want and need to get their message out, but since they didn’t know how to answer the question so they can be understood for their life’s purpose vocation, it just freaks them out.
If you’re in business for yourself, you know that you can meet a potential client, or those who would refer you services at any moment. Not just in networking gatherings, but at the grocery store, after a yoga class or when you drop your kid off at school.
So you know how important it is to be ready with an answer.
MerPreneurs Can Suffer the Most
It’s these women in my community who suffer with answering this question the most. These MerPreneurs are not just selling widgets or providing any old service. They are pouring (or want to pour) the whole of themselves and their sacred life purpose into a business.
They know that this lifetime or next they are going to have to fulfill on their sacred contract, so they may as well do it full time, get crazy good at it and get paid for helping others to the extent they can.
They are not satisfied with traditional market research, identifying a hole in the market and jamming their round peg into that square hole. They have gone deep in their own journey and they want to take others to the depths they have gone, but in the way only they can do.
They are compelled to serve, to take this broken and distorted world and return it to its natural state. And they can be magically gifted. While they often have multiple degrees and certifications, it can be difficult to describe and value what they downloaded straight from the Divine.
You May Feel Your Sacred Contract is On the Line
So if you are that one who goes (or wants to go) deep to serve with your life purpose, unconsciously you may feel like your ability to fulfill on your sacred contract is on the line when someone asks about what you do.
And if that someone doesn’t get or like what you do, the possibilities for taking it personal is way higher.
In a life’s work business, your business is you, ideally the whole of you. So when someone reacts to how you respond to “What do you do?” they are responding to you.
The confused mind says ‘no.’
How you serve may go right over someone’s head and people get confused when they can’t put you in a box they recognize. The confused mind says ‘no’, so it can feel like rejection or even judgement or jealousy.
Those are the last kind of reactions you want to inspire, so it’s easy to get guarded and want to head for the hills when it comes up.
But evading the question won’t help you.
So if you’re committed to doing your life’s work as a business, no matter how dumb or invasive the question is, then heading for the hills doesn’t serve a Mermaid or those you help.
Going deeper inside is the only way to have a clear message.
Who you help transform is as big a part of your life purpose as what you do. Your life purpose not only contains what you do but also very much who you do it for.
I found on what I thought was my death bed that not only are we here for a special mission, but that our mission is how we fit with humanity - lock and key, in a certain way with certain kinds of people. Our people.
Niching is the most loving thing you could ever do for your business.
This is where niching in your business is the most loving and strategic and thing you could ever do, and why it is one of the first things I teach my clients to do.
If you say that your work is for everyone, even if that’s ultimately true, when your listener hears ‘everyone’ they really hear ‘no one’. ‘Everyone’ literally brings no one into mind.
Your life has prepared you.
Your experience - struggles you’ve overcome, ways you’ve honed your skills and journeys into your bliss - have prepared you to help certain kinds of people, with specific experiences, specific struggles and obstacles, specific loves and inclinations. You are not a tool! This is a huge key.
When we answer this already-decided invasive question, we are programmed to answer with a description of the tools we use to help create transformations in others. So yoga is your tool. Teaching is you tool. Reiki is your too. Healing is your tool. Divination is your tool. Natural remedies are your tools. Counselling is your tool. Body work is your tool. Therapy is a collection of tools. Modalities up to your eyeballs are all your tools.
But unless the person you’re talking to about what you do actually geeks out on your tools the way you do, their eyes will glaze over when you go into depth trying to describe the tool, how it looks and why it works. Goddess forbid you have a whole bunch of them like myself and my clients often do…
So then, much more powerful than describing and explaining your tools will be diving into the specific results you help someone get.
People want to know how you can help them.
That way you don’t have to explain about your modality and worry that they won’t get it. Treat it they won’t get it! But they don’t even need to get it to have it work for them.
When I was going through brutal cancer treatments nearly two decades ago, I was blessed to have two amazing women give me Reiki treatments. I got miraculous results and not only did I not have any idea how it worked, I didn’t even believe in it. I was just desperate for help!
If you use a tool, you need get how your stuff works. But, especially in an introductory and casual conversation to someone you might be able to help, they don’t care as much about exactly how they get helped.
People need genuine hope.
As long as your means of helping someone transform matches their world view, they trust you and that they have genuine hope of getting past their stuck places with you, they will feel satisfied by your answer. This is a place we all need to dig in and be specific about how what we do is different from others, based on our skills and training yes.
But you need to get clear as well on your specific life experiences that inspired you (or even forced you) to get good at certain kinds of transformations and the big reason why you do it for the greater good of all.
Here are three way to train yourself to turn the conversation around.
By focussing on the one who is asking you, “What do you do?” (instead of yourself) you gain enormous freedom. It puts you in your courage, because it’s braver to take the attention off yourself in a genuine way that’s not evasive.
1. Get your curiosity on.
Curiosity is one of the most magical states to be in. And a lack of curiosity is in large part what’s wrong in the world. Being curious stops you from projecting your shit on the world and allows you to be open-minded and open-ended.
You literally don’t know what you are going to find so you have no goals. From this place you are not only o.k. with that, but you are excited by the adventure of it! From curiosity you are prepared to learn something you don’t already know. You are vulnerable and approachable in that place.
This open-minded and open-endedness will also teach you very quickly where they are coming from when they ask. Are they curious? Are they looking to compare? Are they actually looking for something you might be able to help them or people they know with?
2. Don’t evade the question.
Some people think that quickly asking the other person questions will get them off the hot seat and make them forget they asked. But this tactic only creates distraction, and that leads immediately to confusion.
Turning it around doesn’t mean you are trying to trick someone. But by simply being genuinely interested in someone, and then turning the conversation around without evading the question, you will might find that they know your ideal client, or they are your ideal client. Or you may learn something new by seeing their experience through their eyes. Evading the question will unfortunately just make them not trust you.
And no matter what the outcome of the conversation, you want someone to trust you or you have no basis for true connection.
True connection is the real thing. We get dopamine hits from a tonne of artificial connection, and we are addicted to it. But when there’s an actual zing connection, when Facebook friends you never met start telling you they are dreaming about you, for example, you know you got in their head and their heart.
3. People are keenly interested in themselves.
People are generally more interested in themselves and how to solve their own problems, than they are in you. This is especially true if they are stuck, and most people are stuck somewhere. In fact the soul is designed to spiral up infinitely. So unless they’ve transmuted into an Infinite, we've all got shit to work on.
If you can be the one that gives them the time of day, your undivided attention and will hear them if they want to share, they will automatically be warm, open and trusting with you, which helps them a lot. And this will be very satisfying for you. Have a good answer. Your good answer should include, to summarize, who you help and what transformation the people you work with make. It should also have the “flavours” of how you do that. By flavour I mean, it gives them an idea of how you work too. For example, is it sciency or woowoo, or a combination of both? Is it practical nuts and bolts, or will it help them save their soul...or both? Is it intuitive or knowledge based...or both? Is it magical or about getting your hands dirty? Or both?
5. What’s your big-ass WHY?
Like Aristotle says, we are so much more than the sum of our parts. In our wholeness there’s a kind of magic there that cannot be conveyed just by taking inventory and adding up all of the things that we are and do. When those parts truly come together, they become something that we could never recognize according to their parts. It’s literally something of its own, its own soul.
Like when two people make a baby, it’s not a copy of either parent. And its not just a combination and recombination of bits that come from each side. It’s its own creation altogether, with its own soul and life journey.
If you mixed the parents into soup, it would not in a million years make their baby. That explains why each baby from the same parents is so starkly unique.
If your soul comes through your business, it comes through with everything it loves. And it also comes through with who it loves. And finally it comes through with the big why, the much-bigger-than-you reason you won’t quit when it gets hard.
Your unique, big-ass why is how you see the world differently, how you are a lighthouse, how you carry a torch however big or small on certain subjects and situations. Our world is messed up.
Because our world is messed up, in a lot of ways, this is the ongoing project of every soul on earth. We have two choices, to either be part of that problem, even if only in complicity, or contribute to solutions in only the ways we can.
If when you answer “What do you do?” you include why you do it and your big-ass vision about how the world could be different in the way you are really wired to care and help then it will pack a punch (that’s good). Someone will automatically know if they are with you, or unfortunately (and this is where the courage comes in) if they are against you. But truly, most people can read your love if that’s where you’re really coming from. Then they won’t look in their bank of opinions to see if they agree with you and will just ride on your wave of love. That’s ideally where you want all of your conversations to land, but especially the ones that include this loaded question.
Either way when you get your attention off of yourself and you do a very important thing of getting them to decide accurately if they are aligned with you or not, you will be able to make good on even this stupid and invasive question. Remember these conversations happen when you least expect it (save for networking events).
So being prepared with an answer you may have memorized because it’s so right on for you is a kind thing to do for yourself if you are living on your soul’s purpose wits as a MerPreneur.
Ready to go deeper?
If you’re hearing all of this and seeing where you might be getting stuck feeling yuck when you get asked what you do and would like some clarity on the direction you’re headed, then click here for a free MerPreneur Archetype Quiz.
And if you’re ready to dive in and create a clear message for yourself, based on a clear niche, a clear sacred service with clear results, click here to apply to work with me one-on-one in a MerPreneur Passion session where you’ll see exactly where you’re getting stuck, why that is and make a plan for moving forward with a soul purpose business that makes a difference in our crazy-ass world. I look forward to hearing from you!
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