Is what you do who you are?

It happens every time. You’re at a social event, and someone is trying to begin a conversation. “So,” they ask, “What do you do?”

Whether or not you have a pat response to the inevitable Cocktail Party Question, something about the question doesn’t feel right. Often, what we do stems from financial need, educational background, family, or simply what we’ve done before. It doesn’t always reflect who we are.

In an article titled “What Should I Do With My Life?” author Po Bronson suggests that one’s calling is not about mindful career progression, but emotional authenticity. “Instead of focusing on what’s next, let’s get back to what’s first,” he says. What’s primary to who you are and what you love to do? What feels good? Try not to overthink it. Because, says Bronson, “Using the brain to solve this problem usually only leads to answers that make the brain happy.”

In fact, new research shows that emotion has a huge influence on how the brain stores information. A study by the University of North Carolina found that emotional connections make events and ideas more accessible in the brain—like putting an important file folder right up front in the drawer.

Let emotion lead you in keeping the “Be Who You Are” folder in the front file drawer of your mind.

Here are some ideas for reflection

  •  Write out a list of great you moments. When have you felt most yourself? When did it feel fun and easy, like things were just clicking? What was it about those moments that felt so right—so you?
  • Surround yourself with reminders of who you are. A photograph of yourself at age three on the swing set. A favorite song or movie that conjures confident feelings of your best self. A framed card or letter that reflects how capable and lovable you are. A pale shell you picked up while surfing or snorkeling, totally at one with the waves. A handmade collage of words and images that resonate with who you are (and want to be).
  • Plan an “All You” day. Write out a detailed itinerary. What’s on the agenda of a day designed explicitly to give you both joy and purpose? If you can, make an appointment with yourself to fulfill this agenda. Even if you can’t act it out, explore the emotions behind it. What about these activities makes you feel connected to your best self? What does it tell you about your needs and values?
  • Make up a fun answer to the Cocktail Party Question. If the question leaves you feeling flat, rewrite it—along with your answer. Imagine being asked not what you do, but who you are. Write out your reply with as much color and feeling as you can. (If you’ve completed Ignite the Spark, your calling card is a great starting place.) Your answer can be as specific, general, imaginative or futuristic as you like, but make it something that fills your belly with joy!

Focus on being who you are, and you will be more able to connect that to the work or path you love. In so doing, you will unleash your best productive and creative powers. And you might just come up with a wild new answer to the Cocktail Party Question—or an entirely new question of your own.


Susan Clark, founder of heartspark, shows people like you how to succeed in ways you never thought possible. She can be reached at or 503-977-0556.