Write Your (own) Headline


My professional headline has always been a work-in-progress. The latest LinkedIn iteration is plain, present-day and obvious: “Communication leader, educator.” Still I was surprised to see it deployed so readily by Goodwill Seattle in this year’s Earth Day campaign #Give1Pound (“to help keep clothes out of landfills and give back to our community!”).

And while yes, my participation in this worthy cause compels me to not-so-subtly share the image below, it also has me reflecting on my current station. It’s hard not to do so: this week coincides with yet another birthday, I’ve just returned from London (where I was born) and Paris (where I spent a formative year pursuing a law degree). It’s also approaching a decade since I chose America, Seattle, the University of Washington.

None of those decisions were lightly made, and they were timed with a late-stage revelation that I sometimes share with others: “As soon as you are able (1) Know what you want to do (2)  Know where you want to do it (3) Know who you want to do it with.”

Hanson GoodwillBlessed with the curse of too many choices, I spent all of my 20’s and some of my 30’s chasing these answers. In possession of at least three passports at any given time, it felt sexy as a swashbuckling American journalist who was actually not an American to proclaim “I’m a citizen of the world.” But during my expatriate years in Israel and Palestine, I found myself deeply absorbed with another region’s challenges yet curiously divorced from ownership in resolving them as a non-voting, outside observer. It was then that I realized that I truly needed a community I could belong to — and give to.

This is crucial grounding for any globalizing pirate as it ultimately brings peace through a necessary focus. In the ensuing years, I chose to marry a fourth-generation Seattleite. We ended up moving to her hometown. Almost instanteously, an opportunity to lead a graduate program at a world-class university would materialize.

I am now officially (and proudly) an American — settled in a tumultuous, fabulous country that has always given me a sense of the possible. And after all these years, my true identity is even more localized by how I completed my personal multiple choice test so neatly embodied by that Goodwill image — what do you want to do? where do you want to do it? who do you want to do it with?

It has led to citizenship yes, but equally important, community membership and ownership. As professional headlines go, it’s not so bad. And it has served as the starting point for the contributions I now make to this country’s increasingly “metropolis-first arrangement” as a Seattle-based leader at the Chamber of Commerce (whose April 27 annual digital innovation conference I moderate) and at Climate Solutions (whose May 9 annual breakfast I’m hosting).

As I now support my students in finding their own direction, I always exhort them to title their resumes and their online profiles appropriately. How we write our headlines, and what they say, matter enormously to others. More essentially, how we own them serve as a real-time mission statement to ourselves as we continue to advance and contribute professionally.