The Encounter at the Party:
Hi, what do you do? His hand snaked into the pocket and fished out a business card faster than the eye could see. I marveled at the gentleman before me, around late thirties to early forties was my surmise. I was positive that had Clint Eastwood or The Duke seen this draw they would have cast him in some wild western film of theirs. His face didnt say leading man but he certainly had the potential as the villains third side-kick.
His card read Sr. GM – Business Development of an Electrical Appliances company that’s famous for making electric bulbs. No wonder he was so light on the draw. There was a pin drop silence for a while as he expected me to return the favour with my business card. In social events I normally don’t have cards with me and hence I fiddled around and came out with a bent looking specimen from my wallet. A residual card. It just stated my name and the company. No designation.
His countenance puffed up with a superior attitude and all of a sudden the ingratiating smiles from earlier were replaced with knowing smirks and he was looking down at me. I was totally impressed with his skills of conveying so much without a word being spoken. He was a superb communicator. He went on and on about how he had mapped his career right away after his B-School and in the first seven years had achieved fast track growth and was a Sr. GM on his way to become a Vice President this year. I have been a B-School product from an era gone past and understood this chatter.
The Reaction & the Reasoning
His was not the first reaction I have faced as I present my business card; though this definitely was the most succinct in clear communication in the shortest time-span. I chuckled to myself about the premium placed by people on the visiting card. "Who are you" is defined by your calling card. I truly started exploring within myself, Am I just what my business card states? If not then who am I? or am I just a designation in transit? or am I who I say I am; just plain old me. Why cant people accept others just as people without a slot. But compartmentalization is easy and convenient for memory too.
I now actually started this process of defining me the individual as a fall out of the encountered behavior. My status was crystal clear when I was working with an organization. I was an employee, whatever may have been the designation I would write on it, this fact was very clear. When I would meet other employees and we would exchange cards there would be an automatic sizing up process. The comparison was between designations, company, or quantum of business handled.During this time we would also meet self employed professionals and businessmen.We would notice that they unlike us were not keen card flashers. Over a time I understood this. They never felt the need to. A handshake and an oral introduction were good enough.
How would one define each of these different states from which the need arises to impress an identity? One would earn their living from either of these states or frame of reference. We shall attempt to define them
Employee: He works for a company or an Individual and all his earnings in the form of a salary come from the same employer. All his working hours are accountable to the employer. Here the sense of self comes from the responsibility handled which is reflected in the designation.
Self Employed Individual: He may be a professional or a service provider who does'nt work for any one person or a company. His services are hired out or committed to whoever he allots his time to. He would be compensated according to his expertise or time or a combination of both. He is fiercely independent.A lot of highly skilled professionals like Doctors, CA’s or even medium skilled artisans like Plumber’s, Carpenters and Masons fall under here. The physical presence in their work gives them money. If they don’t work they don’t get paid.
The sense of self comes from the skills acquired and trade practiced hence one largely finds academic degrees on a large number of these cards or the trade. A Dental Surgeon may write Dr. so and so... MBBS – University of Mumbai, MD- Dentistry school of London or some such.
Businessman: Largely the definition is the same as a self employed individual with one major difference. A Businessman owns his business and he necessarily does not have to be physically present in his business to get paid. A self employed person on the contrary only owns his skills and to have them working his presence is necessary. I am yet to meet business people flash cards with the same alacrity as the above two categories.
A Man is defined by his utility value. Unfortunately this slotting is often decided by someone else when one is an employee. And one constantly seeks to enhance it in those eyes that conferred it. The self employed and the Business owner may seek the same assurance from his client base but the approval is often a comment on skills.
So who am I?
That still doesn’t answer who am I? I was an employee for 12 years and now I own a small advertising agency which is hinged around its most precious asset, I. When I started out, it was as a self employed professional. I needed to be in the thick of activity for the cash flow to start kicking in. I didn’t like it one bit. So I hired people and started to make the activities that I performed redundant to me. Today my act has slowly started resembling a business as it can sustain itself for a period of 15 to 20 days without me being physically present. The day it becomes completely independent of me, I shall introduce myself as, Hi, I am Kaustubh – Businessman. Will I have visiting cards, bent in my wallets like now? A calling card is a requirement though I don’t attach too much value to it, but then I never did even as an employee. I always knew that I am much more than my visiting card.