Recently, I was over my great aunt's house for the day to visit and check in on family. On that particular visit, the conversation was going to a familiar place, one that I always avoid with family—or actually anyone who doesn't work in my industry. I felt it heading into the dreaded direction that I knew it would, when suddenly it came...
"So, how is work?"
Lawd, I hate this question. I hate it even more than the inevitable questions about when I plan to get married or have kids. In comparison, those questions are easy to laugh off, I can deal with those. The work question, not so much.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like to discuss work with anyone, however discussing my line of work is not that simple. And to be honest, it's out of the scope of what most people can comprehend. I respond with my usual, safe answer, "Work is good."
"Oh that's great. What is it that you do again?"
Plotting my escape, I reply, "I work in marketing."
"Oh, so you sell things over the phone?"
"No. That's telemarketing. I'm a content marketer."
Ten minutes later, there I was, trying to explain my day-to-day. I started to see the usual confusion begin to appear on faces as their eyes glazed over and I knew with certainty the very next time I see them, I'd have this exact same conversation again.
But it wasn't until that very moment that I realized, it's not that they don't understand my career. It's just that I am not having the right conversations.
Here's the thing: my industry requires and hosts a very broad skill set. It comes with a varying degree of responsibilities, and frankly could stretch across a multitude of other industries—all industries, to be exact. For example, I work in marketing, yes. But I've worked field marketing, I've worked corporate (or in-house as some refer to it), and most currently, content marketing on a freelance and/or corporate in-house basis. And absolutely no one knows what that means. Our society, is only conditioned to understand what it is a lawyer does or a doctor or police officer or hairstylist. Never do they understand that some of us are bloggers, or create digital email marketing campaigns, or are UX analysts.
So, I set my sights on a mission to improve my communication, one parent, aunt, cousin, and grandpa at a time.
Here are some tips and tricks to improve your career conversation with the fam:
Stressed Issa Rae GIF by Insecure on HBO Giphy
It sounds ridiculous, but one key element to saving a few grey hairs, is to practice. Actors practice, dancers practice, why should you enter the gauntlet unprepared? OK, I'm joking (kind of) but there is nothing wrong with going over talking points for the questions that Aunt Bertha Mae will be grenade-launching at you as soon as you make it to the door. Simply knowing where to take the conversation, where to avoid disaster, and going over it in your mind, will help you to not have to pack your to-go plate so fast.
In many instances, explaining your career comes during those times when you're sitting and soaking up some good ole wisdom with the elders, or at least those who haven't been in the workforce in years. The most questions will come from those that are the most confused. And these elders don't have a filter so don't be offended if they are generally curious as to why you haven't purchased a home yet, but you can afford that trip to the Caribbean.
Speak From a Place of Listening vs. a Place of Explaining
I can't stress this enough: gauge what your family member understands about your career, rather than going into a full elevator pitch. You can simplify your conversation by asking, "How familiar are you with [insert your profession]?" or "What do you know about [your industry i.e. finance, sports marketing, etc]?" And if you know subject matter may go over their head, don't hesitate to water down the conversation. Telling Aunt Jan that you're "creating a video" may be easier for her to comprehend than "uploading a promotional spot for this new CPG client".
Knowing your audience is key, so they may not understand image pixels or blog tags, but they will understand that social media operates within its own methods.
Take the time to seek to the best way to clarify, as if you weren't familiar with your career as well. This allows your counterpart to both engage and feel at ease. Thus, no more of the same questions next year. #yay
Give a Stand-Out Example
I'll never forget the time, while discussing a few career goals with a family member, that I gave my family member that "a-ha" moment. It felt like I bungee-jumped and loved it. But to be honest, truly helping them connect those dots is the key difference in having a substantial conversation or having a drive-by chat. If they've retired from the railroad, and they understand how a component to their job connects to an element of yours, then stay on that course. Transferable skills lie within every single industry out there. Avoid your industry lingo, and instead tell a funny story about a work assignment. Find common ground in places where there are none.
That way, when sitting at the dinner table next year, at least you know Uncle David will have your back because he remembers that funny work story, and he'll be able to follow-up, relate to, sense opportunity, or simply help navigate a next solid move—because once upon a time, he dealt with this shit too.
Simply Have the Patience
It is important to have patience with anything you're speaking about with family, but it is highly-specified requirement when discussing your career. It's honestly a skill within itself. Patience allows you to get comfortable in the conversation, and maybe even taking it a step further to discuss your two-year phased-out career plan. And if you're that ballsy, I say go for it, but have patience.
Just understand the world is ever-evolving and nothing will make sense to you in ten years either. Being careful in these conversations allows you to attend the holidays next year, picking up where you left off. And most of all, your parents will wholeheartedly be able to support your vision when one—or both—of them calls for the day.
Let us know if these tips helped you have those conversations. Happy chatting!
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