But Once You're Gone, You Don't Come Back

Here’s the question of the day. If your name is mentioned in some kind of conversation, whether on the internet or offline, how do people identify you? Are you the founder of a company that does something? Are you a blogger? Photographer?

When they hear your name, do they associate you with a movement? Are you an expert in something? Does your reputation put you in a position of leadership or authority? Are you, like the guy I met a few weeks ago, an I.T. Project Manager?

Does your job identify you? Do you find your value – heck, do others find your value – in what you do or what you are associated with?

If the answer to any of these questions are “Yes”, you have failed. The good news is, that’s not the end of the story. More after the jump

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I’ve said before that what people know about me via my very public persona is only a fraction of who I really am. Who we are when no one is looking is really what makes a man. But I digress. This post is not about the philosophical side of character. Instead, I want to talk about the pigeon hole.

It’s very easy to paint yourself into a box. Whether you see something that interests you and latch on to it or you make sure that you are a panelist or a speaker at industry events, you end up painting a picture of who you are to the world.

From a purely professional standpoint, this can be a real winner. However, like the I.T. Project Manager mentioned above that operated in that singular role for more than 15 years and who is now out of work and can’t find anything else, it can also be dangerous. It’s even more dangerous when the trend you associate with turns out to be nothing more than a fad.

I’m a big fan of hip hop, these days. In Curtain’s Up, a song on Eminem’s album Encore, fellow rapper 50 Cent rhymes these words:

You a fad, that means you’re something that we already had
But once you’re gone, you don’t come back

Sidenote: I always wanted to use rap lyrics in a post. Fantasy completed.

In a perfect world, you’re able to diversify your trade. You become an expert in something, yet have your feet firmly planted in other areas as well. You’re able to rap (pardon the expressions, considering the above lyrics) in multiple worlds. You have diversity in what you do, both personally and professionally.

When someone is asked what they think of you, in an ideal world, they have no idea how to categorize you. That’s where you want to be. When the walls come down because of job situations, the economy or the trends in the world, you have something to fall back on.

As a bonus, this is also the rationale for a lot of pro athletes who decide to get their degrees before entering pro sports.