“What Do I Do? I’m Me.”

I have to come clean about something here.

I’ve been seeing other chats.

For the last two years or so, #sachat has held a desirable time slot on my calendar, at least figuratively and at times literally. However, I spent this past Thursday participating in my second HBRchat, a discussion much like sachat that also takes place during the coveted Thursday at 1pm slot. This week’s topic was, as many of their chats are, based on a blog post on their page. This one caught my attention early in the week, so when I knew that the chat was going to be based on it, I decided it was not to be missed.

The article in question? “Job Titles Aren’t That Important”.

I can’t tell you how often I think about this. One institution’s coordinator is another institution’s assistant director, there are associate directors that run full offices…I’ve been at institutions where politics dictated that someone NOT get a title, because they didn’t like her work, but others in her role on different campuses of the institution had parallel titles.

When did these words become so important? We allow them to dictate our movement, our self-esteem, our status in the eyes of others. And yet, when we really look at them, they often only scratch the surface of what we believe we do. It should be noted that there are other countries in which the title has far more significance than it does in the US; in Asia, there are companies who will refuse to do business with an individual below a certain ranking. But at least in the field in which I work, such a distinction couldn’t be made- the standard is too vague, if nonexistent.

To return to the #sachat community for a moment, I know the question has arisen at times: “What would you call your job if you had the choice?” This creates two reactions: one, revised titles become more complex as they try to fit in precisely the tasks a person is responsible for; two; these descriptions get more broad as they try to encapsulate personal philosophies as well as assigned duties. But both of these approaches labor under the assumption that your title should say what you do. Should it?

One of my Tweets during this chat drove home how I feel about the “great job title debate”:

q2

I would put it in book terms…

As I move into my second full year in this role, I could try to have my title reflect the changes in my role. I could attempt to cram all that I do into a title, or I could select a title just vague enough to encapsulate my varied but somehow still related duties. Or, I could just let the title be, and when someone asks my title, just say “I’m me.” When I come to work, I engage in a lot of conversations, I complete many tasks (well, depending on the day…), I do a thousand and one different things. But most of all, I come to the office as myself. I put as much of myself into those tasks as I can. If pressed to tell you more about those tasks, my title wouldn’t be doing the talking; I would. And whatever I do, has a spin on it that’s uniquely Amma. I know not everyone has the opportunity to do that at the office, but I hope that many of you do. At the risk of running into the balance discussion, let that be your title.

7 thoughts on ““What Do I Do? I’m Me.”

  1. Man, there must be some kind of SABoston thought current out there–I made a similar post to Jason Robert last week, & today we both reflect on titles/roles.

    Thank you for the timeliness of this post–titles really are too ambivalent. Maybe it’s my HR background, but making them so incredibly specific, which is a current trend, truly pigeon-holes both the current position holder and the position itself. If/WHEN someone leaves, that role is difficult to refill because: 1)qualified applicants are afraid of it 2) the search committee is locked into seeking something too specific.

    Your post stresses the importance of the role, and the person; both things many people have difficulty remembering.

  2. I could write a book on this topic, I have so much to say about it. Titles are free and experience is not, so we end up limiting our people in their career progression because of the title blocks. And every institution I’ve worked for has had internal inconsistency as well, which creates big problems with compensation and equity.

  3. I’m interested in the second point you’re making. I wonder if the common complaint “no one is qualified” at times really means, “no one like our last hire is out there.” That’s why I’m so invested in saying my title is me- you can’t rightfully expect the next person in this role to be me, they’d have to be them!
    And yes, some parallel thinking is going around Beantown…crazy!

  4. Jana, the internal consistency issue is a big one! In my last office, the HR distinction and what we called ourselves was confusing, but then when they tried to change it those with the old title were grandfathered in. So we had two Assistant Directors and a Coordinator who were technically at the same level. Madness, I tell you!
    Happy you’re reading along ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I think it does. And I get the idea of wanting someone similar, for many reasons, but it can alienate either people from applying or you from interviewing.

    Job searches aside though, people want to identify themselves, to place ourselves into boxes; it’s one of the things I get most frustrated with the LGBT community about–I can’t just be a lesbian, I have to also qualify my gender identity, gender expression, preferred partner identity/expression, etc.–I’m just a chick who likes chicks though.

    When the box gets too small, we wind up all alone–works with job titles too.I’m going to embrace my job in the same way I’ve embraced my sexuality: I’m a student affairs professional who does registration.

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