In search of a label
About seven years ago Apple released the Swift Programming Language.
Don’t worry - this isn’t a technical post and it’s not about computer programming. That’s just where we’re beginning.
Apple announced Swift at the opening keynote of their annual developer conference and before the announcement had finished I’d texted a designer I work with and asked her to create a book cover for a book I wanted to write about it named “A Swift Kickstart”.
As most of the readers would be coming from Apple’s current language, I wrote the book for Objective-C programmers who were new to Swift. I assumed the audience knew how to code - they just didn’t know the details of this new language.
None of us did.
Over the years since, I’ve updated my book every time the language changed.
About two years in it occurred to me that now people were beginning to adopt Swift who had never worked in Objective-C.
I revised the book completely.
This was a huge rewrite. I could have easily continued to tweak it here or there so that it would have continued to have been correct.
But I wanted the book to be all that it could be - so it needed to change.
When I co-wrote my first book the publisher had me write a 250 character bio for the back cover.
Until that moment I had no idea that authors wrote their own bios.
And then I started giving conference talks and had to write my own bio for those too.
It blew my mind.
I had no idea that the people saying all those nice things about the presenters were the presenters themselves.
If you haven’t done it yet - take a moment and write your own bio for the dust cover of a best selling book you might someday write.
Anyway, every once in a while I have to update my bio.
Just like the Swift book - the context has changed. The story I need to tell about myself and the story I want to tell about myself has changed.
Between the time that I wrote the Swift book and did the major revision, Kim was killed in a car accident.
I didn’t want to update my bio but it said that my favorite thing to do was to hang out with her.
That needed to change.
So I updated my bio and book dedication to more accurately reflect who I am.
Your bio will change.
My friend Jaimee is struggling to identify what it is that she does.
She discusses the many things she’s done, including running a cool and successful business, and says, “If I had to pick just one thing to call myself, I’d call myself a writer. But I don’t think that captures what I’m capable of. There isn’t a job in my work history that I didn’t write content for, or do customer service/client interfacing for.”
She’s always written.
She thinks of herself as a writer.
But maybe that doesn’t communicate enough.
You try it. Take a moment and capture what you do in under five words.
Also, think about how this might have changed over the past five years, ten years, or longer.
Naming is hard
At some conferences I have to fill in my title for the conference badge.
When I was planning on launching my company I saw a lot of badges from independents that read “A Person, CEO, A Person LLC”.
Clearly this was a one person operation.
So I chose a name for the company that wasn’t my own, hence Dim Sum Thinking.
Now I needed a title for myself. It needed to be a high enough position that I would get the meetings I wanted but I didn’t want it to be CEO or President as that seemed to imply that my company was small.
So I chose Director.
Director of what?
I didn’t know.
At some point where I trusted that enough people knew me and knew what I did, I took a step back and looked.
I write, I teach, I present, I write code, I podcast, …
All of these, I decided, came down to telling stories.
So I sometimes filled in the badge as Director of Story and sometimes Story teller.
You’re rolling your eyes.
That’s ok. A lot of people at the conferences probably did too.
You try it. Come up with a title for yourself - it’s hard.
You may need help from, you know, a story teller.
There’s a British detective series named “Jonathan Creek” where the Alan Davies character has a day job where he designs illusions for a magician.
He then applies what he knows from that world to figure out how the mystery of the week was done.
This is a common conceit in this genre but it’s a reminder that what you do might not be your job title - it might be the skills and practices you bring.
Realizing this frees you to consider what other gigs might appreciate these talents and passions.
Davies also hosts a talk show on the BBC where he is joined by four comedians.
They sit around a table surrounded by the audience and drink adult beverages while swapping stories.
At the end of the episode, Davies and the guests come up with a title based on what they discussed. It might be something that caught their attention or be a particular line from a story.
Examples include, “No talking, no laughing”, “My Father’s would-be assassins”, “Until I’m Married or You’re Dead”, and the provocative “Watch out, Wanky Bill’s about”.
That title appears in their television listings.
The name of the show itself is one that we may want to embrace.
It’s called “As Yet Untitled.”
I take it as a reminder that what I do and who I am can and should change as the context changes.
I haven’t forgotten about your assignment. Try to capture what it is you do in just a few words and jot down a 250 character bio.
Come back to them now and then and see if they need updating.
You are, as yet, untitled.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 58. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe