Who Am I? The Question Killing Your Bio Writing
Who am I?
It’s one of life’s big questions and it conjures images of Greek philosophers in white robes or the deep, dark expanses of space.
It’s a deep question with no easy answers. For the vast majority of us, it’ll take the full length of our lives to get close to solving the mystery of Who am I, and I’m sure it’s supposed to be that way.
The problem is, on a daily basis, we have to define who we are online.
In our bios, on our about pages, in the space of 140 characters, within a few lines at the end of our articles or one paragraph on our CVs; we have to provide an answer to the question, who am I.
It’s not an easy question to answer. And thinking about it is a minefield.
Thinking vs. Being
Thinking about who you are opens up a world of possibilities, both positive and negative, and more often than not ends up with Ego in control. He’ll lead you through areas of self-doubt and shame, patches of fear, and whole swathes of self-imposed labels and constructions about who you think you are, who you’d like to be, and who you think you’re expected to be.
If you’re familiar with Eckhart Tolle’s work, you’ll know Ego is the guy we share our headspace with. He’s the thought master, but he’s separate from who we are and he regularly has us dwelling in the past or the future.
Trying to get to the truth of who you are with Ego whispering in your ear is a path laid thick with time bombs. He’ll have you thinking, imagining, creating, wishing, beating down, covering up, and diverting.
Thinking about who you are isn’t the best strategy to find an answer to the question who am I?
Eckhart Tolle said, in a podcast episode about his book, A New Earth, that the best place to start to know who you truly are is to know who you are not.
This resonated with me. I have always found it easier to find the truth about who I am not, rather than who I am. And how do we know who we are not? Through experience; by being.
The dilemma is that no one can write a bio all about who they are not.
The best strategy to discover who you really are is not going to help you write those about pages, which is a bummer because, if you’re anything like me, writing biographical snippets for online profiles is one of the most difficult aspects of digital life.
If only these bios weren’t so important, then there wouldn’t be so much pressure to come up with something concise and unique, interesting, witty, and authentic to describe who you are.
Unfortunately, they’re very important. These blocks of text stand in for your face and your personality where you cannot physically be present. They communicate on your behalf. They are the virtual you, in word form.
If you’re a writer, blogger, artist, creative, freelancer, business owner — anyone creating work and connecting with people online — you’ve had to come up with an answer to Who am I for this purpose. Some of you are killing it in the short bio writing game. Others, like myself, are finding it a challenge.
I’ll write a bio that feels good to me today, and by next week, I’ll hate it. A lot of the time what I write brings on a heavy case of imposter syndrome. When I change focus and rewrite my bios, I feel like a flake. And with all the trolls and nay-sayers, I want to write something I can really stand behind.
Bio writing stirs some deep stuff when you come at it by asking who am I. This question is too big, too fixed. It asks you to commit when you are still growing, evolving, and learning.
Tolle’s suggestion for tackling the who am I question by focusing on who I am not had inspired me to dig into the bio-writing problem, but it hadn’t offered the solution. The problem was the question itself; it was the wrong one.
We Are Verbs Not Nouns
Then the Universe threw me a bone. Or rather, Austin Kleon threw me a bone. In his newsletter, he shared his post entitled We Are Verbs Not Nouns which is inspired by this quote from Stephen Fry:
“Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it — that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing — an actor, a writer — I am a person who does things — I write, I act — and I never know what I’m going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”
The problem of writing awesome and authentic bios and about pages lies in the question. The question shouldn’t be who am I, but rather what am I doing, because we are verbs, not nouns.
The who am I question, the nouns, the labels — they are the problem. We are not any one thing alone, and there’s no hierarchy to the things that we are. Naming those things just clouds the message and puts pressure on us.
Ask me what I’m doing, and that is abundantly easier to answer. I feel more at ease with the answer. It doesn’t need to be defended or proven, it just is. And it can change because that is the nature of doing. Indeed, there is freedom in being a verb.
Our bios and about pages are key to making connections with people online and finding our audience. And what we have in common with people often has much more to do with what we’re doing as opposed to who we are or the labels we give ourselves.
If you’re struggling to write your bios, try changing the question. Instead of who am I, ask yourself: what am I doing? Throw off that label, break out of that box, and focus on how you spend your time.
Consider your verbs instead of your nouns.