I always find it interesting the way people express themselves whenever “So…tell me about yourself” gets presented. Do you talk about what you do for a living? About your family? About where you’re from? A little of everything?
It’s hard to know what is really meant by this question. What is enough and what is too much? What do you really want people to know? What’s off limits?
Why are there so many questions in this blog post?
The most tempting thing do here is to create a personal mythology. Although, while tooting your own horn might be great for job interviews, it’s not great for ice breaker conversations. Don’t make up facts about yourself. Even if you’re self-concerned about sharing, there is probably more interesting about you than there would be if you just made it all up. It’s possible to create a personal mythology but reserve it for cab rides and situations with people you’ll never likely see again. If you are like me, that might be a large number of people.
When I was young I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Russia (it was the USSR back then). We were told to tell everyone we were from New York. This is true, though we were from the state of New York, not the city. The reasoning behind it made sense though: No one will know where Buffalo is.
The reaction was unexpected. Very few of us had been to New York City (no, Buffalo and NYC are not that close to each other). However, these kids we met at schools in Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) all reacted the same way: “OH!! It’s my dream to see New York City someday. Do you love seeing (the Statue of Liberty/Empire State Building/Manhattan Skyline) every day when you wake up?” And we were stumped - how do you answer that when you’ve never been there?
So, if you want to tell about yourself, but don’t want to create a mythology because the truth is better, I suggest obfuscation. Tell people about yourself in vague terms. Nothing concrete but enough to make them think they might want to get to know more about you and maybe eventually establish a friendship.
In closing, here’s my example…
“Me? I’m PJ, I come from Buffalo, NY where I live with my family. I work in tech, but mostly I go to conferences and speak. Tell me about you?”