One of my favorite things to ask people is, “Tell me how you are.” Yes how. Not who. The emphasis is on an action, not an object. In business, we all define ourselves by our 30 second intro: “Hi, my name is Sherrie Nguyen. I’m a Market Analyst at Bazaarvoice…” This introduction tells the person who I am by proxy of my job title and what I do, but it gives them no understanding of how I am – how I think, what I value, what moves me. So instead of the timeless question, “What do I want to be?”, ask yourself, “HOW do I choose to be?” And then answer it. Constantly.
When I teach yoga, I often ask students to set an intention of how they want to be. When you’re holding a tough pose, your reaction is often indicative of how you react to difficult issues in life. The tendency is to give up, avoid it, etc. However, if you focus on an action like forgiveness or calm, you can actually cultivate this way of being while on the mat – and off. I can easily say that I would like to be a a successful person or a community volunteer. But my actions actually translate this from a desired, static object into a tangible way of living. And what’s exciting is that these actions can and must change daily to adjust to what life throws at you. So instead of “what”, choose how you will be – patient, generous, loving. Then begin to take the steps to make this a constant focus in your everyday life.
Easier said than done, right? I struggled with this concept so much while I was in India. I kept asking the guru, “How do I figure out what job will make me happy?” Little did I realize that a job (let alone a title) can’t really cultivate happiness. I used to set goals and achieve them, only to set higher goals and still not feel happy with my success. Those of us in the corporate world often find ourselves in this rat race. It’s a constant struggle to climb to the top, but once you get there, are you now the person you wanted to be? Oftentimes not. So my guru told me to just focus on a quality that I would like to embody. I chose generosity and immediately thought of my work with Room to Read and yoga. I decided that I would change the world in my own small way through education – volunteering with Room to Read and teaching yoga. Through this generosity of my time and focus, I could make a difference in others’ lives. And ultimately, I could be happy.
What I didn’t realize is how this shift in mentality could actually help me in the corporate world. Six months later, I sat down to lunch with a VP at Bazaarvoice to get guidance on my career. He asked me the basic interview question: tell me about yourself. And so I made a decision. I proceeded to tell him how I am instead of who I am. I focused the conversation on life balance through generosity and what I value most – yoga, volunteering, and family. I told him how much my mind gets fulfillment from work, but I also made it clear that my heart needed fulfillment from other areas as well and that it’s important to maintain both. This conversation made me so vulnerable that I even got choked up. But amazingly, it also landed me a new job two months later. I now work for an incredibly inspiring person doing monumental work for my company, and this has pivoted my career in a huge way in a very short time. The funny thing is, I didn’t set out to achieve this position. I merely had a conversation that focused on the how instead of the who. And it yielded an astonishing outcome.
Two years after I left India, I am just now beginning to understand the guru’s message. It took time and patience to realize the truth in his teaching, but I finally understand the importance of letting your values dictate how you are instead of titles dictating who you are. My dear friend Sarah once told me, “Always know and be able to articulate the values you stand for.” The next time someone asks for your resume or credentials, speak to these values. These values will translate to how you will operate in the workplace based on how you conduct life outside of it. It will also help people understand the real you. And you may be surprised – when you aren’t so focused on the who/what but rather the how, it may yield some incredible results.