“What do you do?”

I travel often. And I meet strangers on airplanes and restaurants, often. Curious people. And I always get nervous when they say, “What do you do?” I’m a CEO and I’m educated and I’m 54 years old — and I consider myself pretty confident — and I still get nervous when anyone asks, “What do you do?”

Business people are supposed to have a nice tidy “elevator speech” prepared for this question. Besides the fact that I was taught that it was rude to ask people “What do you do?” I refuse to prepare and memorize an “elevator speech.” Here’s why.

First, INTP/Enneagram 5 wing 4’s like me think too much. We overthink everything. And we possess this innate desire to be different. Besides all that, I don’t like the idea of memorizing some lame 30-second line to describe, me. Elevator speeches are stupid because there’s no possible way to summarize what anyone does in thirty seconds. Unless you are a barber or student or brain surgeon or something like that. But I’ve never had normal jobs like those.

You probably think that’s stupid and non-strategic for me to forego that elevator speech. All the management experts say you need an elevator speech to quickly hook someone into your business. I don’t want to hook anyone tho.

Second, I’m into authenticity. Elevator speeches just seem fake to me. I’m not saying that if you use elevator speeches that you are fake. I’m not even saying even that at all. I’m just saying that to me they are fake. Again, you might think I’m too idealistic or whatever but, there you go – elevator speeches seem fake to me.

Third, INTP/Enneagram 5 types are prone to stumble over our words. Hard to describe this phenomenon. Between the (overthinking) brain and the movements of my tongue and cheeks and jaw is this kind of delay thing that happens. People often tell me I seem “serious.” I think part of the reason is that when I speak I have to concentrate super hard on making sure that what is “in” my brain and the words I speak, match. It’s not easy – I’m telling you, it’s not.

And since I don’t memorize elevator speeches, I’m left to, extemporaneously, answer the curious people question, “What do you do.”

I usually say what I end up saying, with pauses and “ums.” It takes a while — more then 30 seconds. I get nervous. And even though it’s not a typical elevator speech, and I stutter a bit with “ums” and it takes a while, people always respond by saying something like, “That’s so amazing what you do for those children, and that you are giving back.”

Then I tell them that I don’t really get to work directly with the children in the way our volunteers do – that as the CEO I meet with donors and government leaders and stakeholders in our organization. Then they say, “Yeah but still you are helping people.”

That makes me feel good. (I do get to, once and a while, visit some of our programs and interact with the precious children. In the summer I did visits in Sacramento and San Diego and Dallas and Pennsylvania. And last week I did a visit to Poland.)

Anyway, I’m not sure elevator speeches are necessary. Maybe they are, I don’t know. But I’m going to continue to just give a non-rehearsed answer when the curious people ask, “What do you do?”

It goes something like this.

“I lead an international non-profit organization of 16,000 volunteers. Last year these amazing volunteers gave over 2.6 million hours toward working with children. Not just children, victims of neglect, abuse, and abandonment. We work alongside the government. Social Services locates the children for us, children in foster care. Our volunteers provide direct one-on-one mentoring, guidance, trauma-based interaction, fun, self-esteem activities, acceptance, structure, and most of all love.

“We work with the most at-risk population there is – minor children whose guardians, the ones who were supposed to love and nurture them, hurt and abandoned them, instead. We are an organization made up of Christians, but our goal is not to convert the children in any way. We just want to love them.

“We have a small staff – for every paid staff member, there are over 1,000 non-paid volunteers. We are committed to helping confront abuse, change lives, and transform communities. Because, statistics tell us that the way to prevent academic failure, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, sex trafficking, homelessness, incarceration, and rehabilitation, is to prevent it before it happens.

That’s what I say. But it’s not exactly that, of course.

You can learn more if you want here: www.rfk.org