Tom Peters on “What do you want to be?”

“Carpenters bend wood. Fletchers bend arrows.  Wise men fashion themselves.”


I read a great mini-chapter from a book by Tom Peters.  The book is The Brand You 50, and the chapter was entitled “When was the last time you asked: What do I want to be?”

If you have been following along and doing the exercises in these early posts, you asked yourself that question just recently! However, Tom adds some very interesting twists.

The chapter describes how asking this question is about surviving the white collar crisis.  What is the white collar crisis?  When The Brand You 50 was written, Tom believed business had reached the end of “white collar” work as we knew it.  While Tom was referring to the shrinking of the world due to the internet and the increased competition caused by the outsourcing of white collar jobs during the late 90’s, I believe today’s economic climate makes his advice more applicable than ever.

The premise of the whole book is that the days of letting your company take care of you and your career are finished.  From now on, you should work and behave as if you are an independent contractor.  Whether or not you are on the payroll of a large company, you need to define your own brand, create your own value, and ruthlessly market yourself.  Asking “what do you want to be?” is how you take your first steps.  Regularly re-asking it is how you ensure you are continually creating value.

However, Mr. Peters adds another big thought that makes his chapter even more valuable.  In addition to asking what you want to be, he suggests you regularly ask yourself three other questions, too.

  • What do I want to stand for?
  • Does my work matter?
  • Am I making a difference?

These questions get to the root of what makes most of us feel happy (or not) at work.  Unfortunately, many people have probably not asked themselves these questions since they left school and started trying to earn enough money to pay the bills.  However, knowing your answers to these questions can help you either enjoy what you do, or help point you in a direction you will find more satisfying.

So, getting back to the list of things we’d like to do when we grow up, how might your answers to the above three questions change that list?  Are the jobs/careers/tasks things that matter?  Can they help you make a difference?  Are they compatible with what you would like to stand for?

So here is the challenge I offer you.  Grab a few people whose company you enjoy.  Go have coffee, dinner, or just a chat.  Talk about what you all want to be.  Chat about what you want to stand for, or what you would like your legacy to be.  Finally, discuss how these things can make a difference.  Next, set up a meeting a week later to brainstorm about how you can help each other change your current job or move toward jobs/careers/tasks that do make a difference.  Write down the results so you can come back to them and review them.

Until next time!

Post Script:  If you would like more information on Tom Peter’s book, you can find it at Tom’s book is a compilation of 50 short essays on methods for transforming yourself from an average “employee” into a “brand” that is distinctive, committed, and passionate.  Each chapter is a quick read, and contains not only thoughts regarding the subject matter, but also several suggested actions to help you move forward.  I highly recommend it.

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10 Responses to Tom Peters on “What do you want to be?”

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    • Scott Koon says:

      @music: I’d love to hear more. Can you give an example of what you mean by “giving others the benefit of the doubt?”


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