As a 20-something, my mission in life was to excel through my career, moving up the ranks quickly and really dedicating my life to the mission of my work. Do you know what happened along the way? I lost myself. I only knew of “work Sue.” And if you know “work Sue,” she cannot turn her phone off or put it on airplane mode (what if someone needs me?!), needs to read emails before and after work, and forgets to enjoy life… because getting ahead was more important than having a quality life during this time period.
At 30, I now realize title means nothing. It is another societal label we use in hopes of gaining recognition, power, or a feeling of importance.
Here is what I can tell you about titles:
The higher up you go, the lonelier it gets.
This advice was given to me during my first promotion. As you excel in your career and advance on the organization chart, you look across and may not see as many equal colleagues. It may just be you. Sometimes, your work becomes more administrative and less in the trenches of the work that once filled your bucket. The higher up you go the more restricted your interactions are as some information is not meant to trickle down. You went from making lunch reservations for a party of 5 to sitting solo at the diner because you are a top dog and need to have boundaries.
Title means nothing to your friends and family.
I am so happy you are a CEO, manager, coordinator. But I am much happier that you are a good human. Some friends have complicated titles. Some have broad titles. And all I say is "tell me about your job duties" because some industries I cannot comprehend. Nor do I think these titles define them. As a Student Affairs professional, my dad had no idea what I did for work or what my title meant. He told people I was still in college! Titles are a foreign language that you do not need to learn how to speak.
Every organization is different. Titles do not always translate.
A manager in one organization can be a director or coordinator in another. Confusing, right? Titles do not translate organization to organization. That is ok! If you are collaborating or learning about an organization where your title is a smaller role, you cannot take it personal. And you cannot let your thought patterns cloud your self-esteem.
Your contributions mean more than your title.
When you are in an entry-level position, one typically gives more time and energy to this role. You feel you are doing more than your title, demanding more money. You compare yourself to someone who has a bigger title, sharing you do more than them. Not a fair judgement. Two different jobs. Your contributions to your job mean more than your title. Healthy boundaries with your job are essential to your continued engagement with the organization. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you don’t need to fulfill your section of the strategic plan in 8 hours. That is too much change in such a short amount of time.
I am guilty of saying “I am “just” a server” or “I just work for a sorority”. Do not sell yourself short! This is the one word leaders need to stop using. When we use “just” we are undermining ourselves, which is far more damaging to our confidence and ego than someone else using it on us. Over the past few months, I felt guilty for working at a restaurant as I was in the trenches of my job search. When people asked me what I did for work, I replied “I am just a server.” It made me cringe as the word “just” escaped my mouth. If you know me, I have always worked in the food/beverage industry. It is fun, fast paced, and the fast cash is wonderful for my bills and student loans. Just don't use this word, ever. We just don't need that type of negativity in our lives.
Perks come with the title, not the people.
I have had the honor of working with many brilliant people - CEO’s, Presidents, owners, entrepreneurs, and so on. Their job titles give them the red carpet treatment, not who they are as human beings in the flesh. Sure, some good people who know other good people, get a perk or two. But if a CEO is visiting your hotel to book a potential meeting or conference, you are going to add some features to the visit to ensure the sale. I remember reading about a man who transitioned out of an executive leadership role and how is coffee cup was downgraded. He did not take it personally. He said the Starbucks’ cup belonged to the CEO, not Jim. Perks come with the title.
Your title does not define you.
This year has brought many changes into my life, but more importantly, new friends. Friends who do not care about past titles, but how I am as a human being. Friends who make me laugh until I cry, know to vent and move on, and ensure we don’t dwell, because they know, I get stuck in the downward spiral of dwelling. Friends who want me to have a quality life and want to be part of it. Your title does not define you nor should you let it. For the longest time, I let my job and work title define me. It was my whole identity. And since I left the field, it has been fun to discover myself, my passions, what makes me laugh, like really, really laugh, and how I define me. And how I define me is the most important definition of them all.
Friends, titles are labels that we put so much pressure on to live up to or impress our Facebook friends with by using it in posts. It is just a few words or a summation of a job. You define your work, interactions, and relationships, not your title.