Book Box | Three unexpected ways to introduce yourself - Hindustan Times
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Book Box | Three unexpected ways to introduce yourself

Jun 23, 2024 12:37 AM IST

Experimenting with tell-me-about-yourself questions reveals creative ways of connecting with people

Dear Reader,

Sonya Dutta Choudhury(Sonya Dutta Choudhury) PREMIUM
Sonya Dutta Choudhury(Sonya Dutta Choudhury)

Forgive me. I have been writing to you for two years now, but I haven’t introduced myself properly. You may know bits and pieces, but for all the stories I share with you each week, I haven’t shared my own story.

I think about this when I introduce myself to my new class of MBA students in the first session of my course ‘Storytelling in Business’. And here’s what I say:

“Today is the first class of this new course. I’ve just done a roll call of your names, but I don’t really know you and you don’t know me. So I think I should tell you something about myself."

Tell Me About Yourself Version 1: The Library Story

“I am Sonya Dutta Choudhury and I live in a library.”

I have caught the students' attention. They look puzzled. Faintly incredulous.

I pause for a quick poll. "How many of you think what I just said was literal? And how many of you think what I just said was figurative?"

There’s one vote for "literal", and the rest vote for "figurative".

I go on. “We have about 10,000 books in our fifth-floor flat in Juhu. Of these 6,000 odd books are on science, military history, management and religion – these belong to and are mostly read by the other occupant of the house, the man I married. About 20 per cent belong to people who don't live in the house anymore but INSIST their books must still live here. These are picture books, Enid Blyton’s, Harry Potter sets that belong to our three girls — who live in Delhi, Bangalore and New York. I keep trying to store their books away, you know in those box beds kind of storage areas, because we are running out of bookshelf space. But then each time they visit, they dive into these box beds and out come their books!

That leaves about 20% or 2000 books — these are mostly fiction, it’s a revolving set because I have to keep giving away a lot of my books, as there is simply no space. Then there are books on storytelling and persuasion, which as you know, are the courses I teach.

So that’s me.”

Sonya Dutta Choudhury in Tell Me About Yourself Version 1: The Library Story

The class stays silent. They look like they are waiting for more. It’s fair I suppose, I haven’t given them enough data points.

I think I should begin again. But before that, I do a quick repoll –

“How many of you now think I really do live in a library?”

All hands shoot up! I have persuaded them of my story!

I introduce myself again.

Tell Me About Yourself Version 2: The Ambition I Can Never Achieve

“I am Sonya Dutta Choudhury, and I have an ambition I can’t achieve. And I can’t achieve this ambition, not because I am not focused enough, or driven enough, or smart enough or even motivated enough – because I am all of these things. I can’t achieve this ambition because it is probably too late. Even though I articulated this ambition to myself very early in life.

I was a little younger than you all are, and studying English Literature in Miranda House in Delhi University when I picked up a book. It was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand — the story of Dagny Taggart, the CEO of a railroad company. The book is set in the US many years ago, this was the US when it was just beginning to become this industrialised powerhouse, with vast swathes of land, lots of raw materials and very little infrastructure. So, a railroad at this point – you can imagine what a big deal that was — and it was headed by a woman CEO. That’s what I want to be, I thought — a CEO, working in industry, increasing the GDP of my country.

I put away my Dickens, my Terry Eagleton and my Foucault. And open CAT guides instead. I make it into IIM Calcutta to do my MBA. There is a small blip when I fall in love with one of my classmates, but really, I think this should be fine, we’ll both study and we’ll both work.

After I graduate, I join a bank – which is good because finance is the nerve centre of the economy and credit helps everything grow – and after that, I move to product marketing in export markets.

So far so good. And then, I take a small break to have my first baby and then the second and then the third – because I’ve always loved the idea of a big family.

And while I am on this sabbatical, in my spare time, I start to write. It makes us a little extra money – we’ve suddenly gone from DINK (double income no kids) to SINK (single income, numerous kids) – and we’re cash-strapped. So this writing helps.

In the meantime, my husband, who began his career as a management trainee, becomes a Vice President, then a Director, and then a CEO, my best friend who lived next door to me in our hostel corridor becomes a CEO, and I am happy and proud. And also a little wistful.

But then I think about it – if I had the chance, would I do it differently? I’m not sure. I like my life the way it is, the writing, the teaching, my book clubs and the many little projects I get into.

But this is also true that I have an ambition I’m probably not going to achieve. So that’s my story.”

 

Sonya Dutta Choudhury in Tell Me About Yourself Version 2: The Ambition I Can Never Achieve(Sonya Dutta Choudhury )
Sonya Dutta Choudhury in Tell Me About Yourself Version 2: The Ambition I Can Never Achieve(Sonya Dutta Choudhury )

I have the students' full attention. They are leaning ahead, all eyes on me. The distracted young man in the third row has forgotten to look at his phone. When I stop talking, they stay silent, still looking at me. They want more, I sense. Time for another try. I begin again.

Tell Me About Yourself Version 3: Own Your Accomplishments

“Good afternoon, I am Sonya Dutta Choudhury.

I am the author of the book Career Rules: How to Choose Right and Get the Life You Love. I studied English Literature at Delhi University and then I did a double major in marketing and finance at IIM Calcutta. I worked at ANZ Grindlays Bank and then Tata International, after which I became a writer and a journalist, contributing to Mint, The Hindu, and Hindustan Times. I founded a book subscription service called Sonya’s Book Box which helps people read more. I run three book clubs, I teach here at NMIMS and I write a weekly books column for Hindustan Times.

So that’s me.”

Sonya Dutta Choudhury (left) in Tell Me About Yourself Version 3: Own Your Accomplishments(Sonya Dutta Choudhury )
Sonya Dutta Choudhury (left) in Tell Me About Yourself Version 3: Own Your Accomplishments(Sonya Dutta Choudhury )

The students are sitting back in a relaxed way by now — they look comfortable with the professor who is going to occupy hours of their semester. They now know all about me.

I invite them to pick their favourite version of me — the living-in-a-library story, the ambition- that-couldn’t-be-achieved story or the resume story?

Their collective favourites become a learning moment for us.

When you take a risk with your image and reveal desires and vulnerabilities, you get people to relate to you, to empathise with you and you connect powerfully.

Highlight an unusual part of your life, and you get the world’s attention.

But when you tell these kinds of stories, the Version 1 living-in-a-library and the Version 2 ambition-that-couldn’t-be achieved, you have to leave many things out. Here’s where a Version 3 Own-your-accomplishments scores--- it’s informative, but it’s unemotional, it doesn’t have a narrative, it’s not a story.

All these conundrums make ‘Tell Me About Yourself ‘ the toughest question in the world – what do you say, what do you leave out, how do you structure your story? They also make it fun, pushing you to think up creative ways of introducing yourself.

What about you, dear Reader? Which version did you most enjoy? And what’s your tell-me-about- yourself’ tale? A good way to begin is to pick up a journal and start writing your story around offbeat prompts. Like, are you superstitious – is there an incident around this in your life? Or who have been the three people in the last year who have added the most to your life? Two books to help you on this journey are The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and The Question Book by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler.

And until next week, happy reading.

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at sonyasbookbox@gmail.com

CLASS READING LIST

The Leaders Guide to Storytelling by Stephen Denning

Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career by Katherine Hansen

Stories at Work by Indranil Chakraborty

What’s Your Story by Adri Bruckner et al

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