in Life

On Context

The other day, I was talking to a friend about LinkedIn. He’s on the job market and a recruiter told him about how necessary it was for his field (he’s not in higher ed) and that he needed to get serious about it. I was telling him that I’ve never been much of a fan of LinkedIn because it was just your resume splayed out there for whoever to read, without any real context for what it all means.

It works fine in my mind, if you went to a good school. If your career has been linear and makes sense to someone, then I can totally understand how just copying your resume with some extra words and maybe overselling your accomplishments for all to see would be worthwhile.

But how do you decide what’s important? What if your own experiences don’t quite move along that path? I’ve managed to do okay in spite of having a career that I mostly fell into. There’s no way that I’d ever encourage some kid to follow my trajectory and yet, so many of the experiences I’ve had that I value immensely came from being bold and making the moves that others would’ve admonished me not to make.

There’s no real way for a resume to explain “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just figuring it out as I went along and each place I went, I maximized my opportunities,” because well..even a cover letter saying that might be a bit strange.

Alas, this is my own dilemma of sorts. I was a non-traditional student after spending four years on active duty in the Air Force. I left college at two different times after that before finally getting my undergraduate degree while working my first job. I tried a few startups including a time when I sort of stumbled into developing an athletic brand with a Chinese company. (Yes, this actually happened.) Back since the early days of personal websites, I was never a partisan of “put your resume on your website” and so, LinkedIn doesn’t really offer me much in that way.

Plus, the competitor in me is not too keen on giving away too much of the “secret sauce.” That is, there’s a whole pitch that goes into getting you to a place where you can even get into the room to talk to people. I’m not convinced oversharing does anything other than give people more ways to scrutinize.

So what do you do? I’m more interested in it from the perspective of someone who wants to try to encapsulate a bevy of life experiences into some kind of coherent narrative. I want to provide context for the things that wouldn’t make sense (or let’s be frank, raise red flags) because while the answers might not satisfy, I’d rather people know the right answers than to assume the wronganswers.

Maybe I’m thinking about it the wrong way? Everyone approaches these kinds of things in such a predictable way, maybe the right approach is to take it from a different angle? What if the answer is really to own your path for what it is and communicate that in a way that owns every aspect of what’s made me who I am and why that makes me an asset? (Now you understand why I called this post “Thinking Out Loud…”)

This all boils down to the notion that there’s no context button online. Context takes time and not everyone seems to have much of that these days. I’ve taken to segmenting my messaging on Facebook because I feel more comfortable having contextual conversations rather than just barraging everyone with inane things they may or may not care about. While this is a strategy most of us employ in our work social media lives, it’s not one that we always feel like bringing to our personal worlds. Or if we do, it’s more in theory than in practice because sites like that don’t make it easy to filter out the noise.

The trick is finding a way to provide context for strangers. Dinner guests are easy to cook for when I know they’re showing up; it’s the ones showing up unannounced (with food allergies) that I always have a difficult time preparing for.

I’m headed to the kitchen.