We can’t help ourselves. We have a love affair with titles. Director at Large, President & CEO, the Marketing Manager… we’re obsessed! It’s as if we somehow put so much importance on letters formed together and string them along our names… Jane Doe, MBA. And the more letters, by all means, the better! You only have a bachelors degree? Yikes! Maybe one day you’ll be more prestigious. A liberal arts degree, well that’s just not as useful to the world as the bachelor of science.
Don’t misunderstand me, I believe in recognizing hard work. The admin who has worked tirelessly for years to obtain the CEO status, she’s well-deserved of her role. The doctor who put in thousands of dollars and hours of study, hat is off to you. It’s a cause and effect world, sowing and reaping exists and therefore those who put in more should rightfully get more out of it. This can be demonstrated in the military very well. You don’t move up the ranks by not putting in effort and taking on a lot of responsibility. You don’t become Commodore of your ship overnight. There is a reason why there are titles and they help us distinguish where we all fit and maintains order.
On the flip side, there are those that don’t deserve their titles. I think the military is the easiest place for us to accept them because we realize they are earned and there is sacrifice involved in good leadership. There’s no greater degree of sacrifice than in the military. But it’s harder for us to accept the Executive’s position because I think to some degree, we don’t trust the white color corporate world the same way. And how many times has it been seen that the “Executive Admin” aka glorified secretary, did more of the role than the President or CEO? I’m not saying that it’s always that way, but many times titles get sticky and those who really perform more of the job functions many times are not properly recognized.
The problem becomes further created when we become obsessed with them, when they provide identity. Suddenly I don’t feel important without the alphabet after my name. And I think this is a problem because it perpetuates this idea, this theme that I grapple with, of finding our value as people in what we do rather than in who we are. Because what happens when you lose that job, and you aren’t the CEO or the Director of Selection? What happens when a disability makes it impossible for you to perform at the level you used to? Or your department gets out-sourced? What do we do, and who are we when the titles are gone?
I think it’s safe to say that there’s a difference between working hard and trying to be our best to serve others versus working hard to prove something. I can say that because I’ve done that–and it just leads to burn out. It’s an insecure way of being that leaks into our professional world and causes us to seek advancement and title for the wrong reasons. Bettering ourselves, there’s nothing wrong with that. Learning more and serving a wider range of clients, that’s what we should be doing. But it can never be for the reason of self-identity and that’s what this title-crazed culture has become. We should seek to serve and do our best, the titles will just be a symptom and by-product of our service.