In a world where we are constantly bombarded by information, a story that takes 10 seconds to communicate is way, way too long. Maurice Saatchi says today’s marketers should invest in “one-word equity”- “define the one characteristic they most want instantly associated with their brand around the world, and then own it.”
We market ourselves and our causes in the same arena as the marketers. We also deal with the “constant partial attention” of today’s consumers, be they employers, clients, buyers, sponsors or partners. Thus, as Daniel Pink says, “If you have a career, company or a movement you care about, you need to be able to pick one word to be associated with it.”
Recently I asked participants at a job search workshop to experiment with describing themselves – who they are, what they do – with a single verb. I explained that this was not intended as a branding exercise; but rather a way of thinking about themselves, a way of “owning it” – that helps selection between alternatives – whether that’s deciding on a career path, which job to apply for, where to spend time, or what to say about themselves.
A well-selected verb can act as a decision filter, and is another way of drawing on your Essence – who you are – to help you make career/life choices. Typically you will find your verb can be applied across all boundaries in your life, from your work, to your family, to your hobbies. If you make choices that contain no elements of your Essence, they may not be happy ones.
What’s Your Verb?
Nik Wallenda’s or Felix Baumgartner’s verb, I suggested, might be “Dare”. Craig Kielburger’s might be “Engage” (people, partners, government, the Powers That Be). A participant whose speciality is HR and is also a mother picked “Nurture”. I believe mine is “Interpret” (one group of people to another, as in archaeology, technical writing, teaching, job search, and social media-all fields I have chosen to work in). Two participants wanted to pick “Help” and I encouraged them to engage in further thought. Engaging, nurturing and interpreting all “help”, but there are many kinds of help. Perhaps you teach, equip, untangle, or empower. When you find the word, you will likely find it can be used to describe actions you took when you made your best life choices to date.
If You’re Stuck
Some workshop participants could not think of a verb. Chances are, they have not yet done the meta exercise of looking at what they’ve accomplished and tried to figure out
If you’re stuck, borrow or buy a copy of What Colour is Your Parachute and do the exercise in which you divide your life into periods of seven years. For each seven-year period, write a page on one of the accomplishments about which you are the most proud, that occurs during that period. It may involve work achievements, or not; just make sure to be as specific as you can about what you did, and what the outcome was. Do this exercise for at least three seven-year periods (five-seven even better). Do the accomplishment exercise without thinking about this posting or any other exercise – don’t second-guess yourself.
Look for Themes
When you are done, read over everything you wrote. What common themes do you see? What verbs are you using to describe your successful actions? You may find there is one predominant verb, and one or two others that occur with some frequency. For me a secondary verb that turns up is “Encourage”. I look for work and life situations where I can encourage others.
Apply Your Verb As a Requirement
After you have identified your verb(s) – try working with them for a month as a filter for your choices. When you find a job for which you meet the technical requirements, remember also to ask yourself if the job provides opportunities to dare, engage, encourage or otherwise express part of your Essence. If the answer is yes, chances are you will both enjoy the job and be good at it.