‘What do you do?’
I hate that question. Really hate it. It’s up there with, ‘tell me about yourself?‘ and ‘how do you spend your days?’
I despise those types of questions. Mainly because what the person is really asking is, ‘who are you?‘ and unless you’re prepared, you can’t answer it easily or quickly.
The ‘what do you do?‘ question is something that you have to respond to on social media, in the form of a bio. A limited number of words on Instagram or Twitter or whatever else that declares to the world who you are and what you do.
I’m writing about this because I just recently changed my Instagram and Twitter username. ‘So what?’ I hear you ask, but it turned out it was a pretty big deal, and something I should have done months ago. I went from ‘Zoe___Lea’ to ‘Zoe Lea Writer.’ And it was putting the ‘writer’ bit at the end that was the big deal part and it got me thinking about my bio, and when I first went on social media years ago.
What do you do? Answer: the real title.
For a long time I was scared to call my creative work by it’s proper title. I think my first instagram bio was something like, ‘I write a bit and like to take photos.’
I fancied myself as a writer and photographer, but I couldn’t say that, could I? I didn’t want to exaggerate my abilities and how could I call myself a ‘writer’ when I didn’t have any published stuff out there? Or a photographer when my art college days were years ago and now I only took pictures for Instagram?
And I was lots of other things to, did they need to go in my bio? I’m a mother, an office worker, a hiker, a runner. I like to drink wine, eat spaghetti, watch films and read thrillers. Which one of those labels did I want to slap on my forehead?
It’s confusing, so I decided to keep it short.
I decided to leave the personal stuff out unless it was what I was creatively concentrating on within those platforms. My Instagram is not food shots of spaghetti or film reviews, so I kept that side of myself out of it. My tweets are not about running or my day job, so they don’t get a mention. Instead, I focused on what I wanted my account to reflect, my writing and my photography, so that’s what I concentrated on. But still, I couldn’t call myself those things. And it was a huge mistake.
Not saying who you really are is undermining
By not attaching those titles to my bio, I was undermining myself. I would see people on social media, see the sponsored posts and think, I want to do that. I want to get paid to post to Instagram. I would see people on Twitter talking about their work in progress and chatting on there with editors and publishers and think, I want to do that. I want to have the confidence to tell the world what I’m working on, to have conversations with other people doing the same, so why wasn’t I?
By not calling my creative work by thier true titles, I was stopping myself from moving forward. I was telling myself and everyone else that I was only playing at the writing game. Even though I was feverishly working on my book every night, even though I was spending vast amounts of time thinking about plot and story structure, and stacking up a daily word count, I was only ‘writing a bit.‘
The same with my photography, even though I was taking photographs every day, even though I was reading up on composition and lighting, I wasn’t really a photographer yet. My bio said so, it said ‘I liked to take photos.’ The sub-text there is huge. There is a world of difference between someone who likes to take photos and a photographer.
You’ve heard of imposter syndrome? The persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’? A social media bio, is no place for that.
You can feel stupid calling yourself… (fill in the blank) but do it, because, think about it, who decides this stuff? Is there a special place where it’s agreed that you can now attach a certain title to your bio? No. The only person deciding this stuff is you, so decide you’re going to be who you want to be.
Not declaring it is holding you back. Don’t wait for validation from outside. By skirting around what you do, or what you want to do, you’re effectively saying that you aren’t professional or serious about your work. And if you don’t believe you can do it, how do you expect anyone else to?
Worried what other people would think
This was a major concern for me. If I announced to the world that I was a writer and photographer, what would the people I knew in real life think? That I had delusional ideas that I was a writer and photographer? I could hear the laughing as I typed the words. But you know what? None of that happened. In fact, no one noticed. Because the brutal truth is, no one really cares.
I got a few comments about it, but not much. Certainly no one suddenly pointed a finger and shouted, ‘I’ve seen what you wrote on your Instagram bio, who do you think you are? You missus, are a fraud!’ That did not happen and I’m guessing that you might get a few remarks, but no one will shout that at you either.
If you want to work as something, you have to call yourself it first. You can’t contact an agent and skirt around the subject that you’re a writer, you have to claim that you have written something that you’d like them to look at. You can’t apply to an agency and not call yourself a photographer. If you want to be paid to take pictures, you have to claim that title.
So since changing my bio, since owning my titles and calling myself a photographer and a writer, things started to happen.
I got took on by an agency and I’m now paid to take photographs. I’ve just been taken on by another agency and I’m now in the position of turning down sponsored posts because they don’t fit in with my feed.
I’ve a book coming out at the end of the month, which is insanely exciting.
I’m not saying that just by changing my bio, things suddenly started to happen, but I think that by taking myself seriously, I got serious about what I wanted to do.
The final step was changing my username, and that just highlighted it all and made me realise I should’ve done it months and months ago, which is why I wrote this post in case you’re in the same position.
So if you’re reading this and your current bio skirts around what you do, or if someone asks you that awful, ‘what do you do?’ question and you answer it with sentences that begin something like, ‘I just do a bit of….’ or ‘I’m not really professional or anything but I like to….’ then stop.
Start calling yourself the big names.
Photographer. Writer. Creative. Artist. Dancer. Actor. Whatever you are or what you are aspiring to be. Do it now and see what happens, and then let me know so I can cheer you on.