You Are Not Your Job Title

Hundreds of years ago odds were good that if your last name was Smith, you were a blacksmith as was your father and his father before him. Fast forward to today where the pace of technological and social change is so rapid that you can count on multiple careers within your lifetime let alone continuing your parent’s career. Jobs will always be subject to change now. Thus taking the reins of your career and preparing for change is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity!

I’ve mentioned before the engineer who turned industrial photographer and business consultant turned non-profit founder. Since then, I have met social workers transitioning into the police force and software developers moonlighting in photography. More and more people are broadening their career “identities”. These people have a unique ability to create new opportunities for themselves and go after them. There is fulfillment, I believe, in taking control of creating your career rather than letting the career dictate who you are.

How well are you developing your career creation ability? Here are some places to look.

First, throw away this notion that you are a ___________ (fill in the blank with the name of position, title, social standing) because one day it may no longer fulfill you or the needs of the world (a fancier way of saying that you might get sick of your job or your job might become obsolete).

We have an identity much bigger than the limited definitions we give ourselves. Too often we let society dictate what is or isn’t important. Social status, climbing the corporate ladder, or having a big house and a family are all fine goals, but we are socialized to believe it without question. What if you took a break from the usual, looked around the world, and thought about it…

What is really, truly important?
What is important to your family?
To your great grandkids?
To the city, country, world they will live in?

What is important in your life to honour from the past?
In your deathbed?

If this seems a little too abstract for you, then I encourage you to take any one of these practical steps to begin or continue your exploration… in no particular order, off the top of my head:

I would recommend shutting down that fear of “yeah, but… (insert common fears of any potential change)” and imagine instead “what if” and “what would it take…”. What if you were a meaning-seeking human being with many capabilities the most valuable of which is the ability to learn and adapt to ever-changing circumstances? What would it take to live it?

Have fun experimenting for as long as it takes! More to come in the next article on paths to your career path.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.

6 Replies to “You Are Not Your Job Title”

  1. The first thing that struck me about this article was you’re right! I am not my job title. I used to think that I was though. I mean, I spent 7 years in school getting my degree, surely now I was a Social Worker. I am a Social Worker, but I am also a sister, a daughter, a granddaugter, a fiancee, a friend and a so many other things. My last job really taught me this. Each time a new kid came to school they would do a welcoming circle and you had to define who you were. The odd time I participated I never once announced my job title. Kids don’t care much about what you do, I think they care more about who you are.

  2. Have you ever noticed that when you’re at a party, one of the first questions a stranger asks is often “What do you do for a living?” Career is a predominant focus in North America, as we generally place value on status within society (often reflected by our job title). As Meela suggested, that value shifts somewhat from person to person – which is why some people see themselves as a mother or brother first and an engineer or doctor second. However, many of us have chosen to identify who we are and where we belong in the world by our titles. This is a message that’s delivered regularly to those of us living in Canada.

    I have to wonder whether this form of identification is common across cultures; certainly not all cultures place value on job title as highly as we do… Often the “standard” questions we ask each other (like “what do you do for a living?”) indicate some form of underlying cultural norm and value.

  3. I have often run across human “doings” rather than human “beings” when supporting people to write their resumes for submission to the job they are currently seeking. It is interesting that people define themselves by what they do in their job and often not in any other aspect of their lives; listing themselves as tasks completed. I imagine this is a side effect of living in a modernist / utilitarian world where people are commodities, and hence, devalued if they are not perceived as “contributing” to society. I encourage people to think about their lives as a whole; about all their valued roles and what skills and expertises they have that contribute to their success in these roles. Valued roles (in our current society) can be as simple as citizen, mother, volunteer, roommate, etc. at the very least (especially for the people who are chronically devalued) to president, home owner, millionaire, etc. (as you noted we may let society dictate). [I just noticed that Meela has captured this beautifully]. Now that I think about it, after reading your article, I think I use the types of questions listed here to help people coax out their talents and explore the breadth, depth, and diversity in the roles they hold.

    Your identity game example is fun and interesting; I’ve tried it for years. The second part of the “game” I play is to find out what people “do” without asking the direct question (I’m no good at it, but it’s fun trying). Try asking “what’s your passion?” It’s almost never a task!

    I’d be curious about your thoughts on the people I think are listing tasks because it buffers them from their accomplishments; people who feel they are “bragging” by writing down their successes on a resume.

  4. About 6 months ago I had a minor crisis. I lost my job as a newspaper editor. Lack of due-cause notwithstanding, this for me felt like a case of identity theft. If I wasn’t the editor of the local paper, who was I? I felt like my sense of self had been stolen.
    Happily, this feeling didn’t last. I was supported by a community that saw me as more than just a job title. I was corralled by a director in the local Community and Family Services department who gave me fresh impetus for a new and different path. I had a new perspective, and with that came the opportunity to reflect on what I had been missing out on in my former job – the opportunities to become more actively involved with the community, to devote more time to eating and living healthy and to make new connections with people whom I wouldn’t have otherwise.
    Do I feel trapped when people now ask me what it is that I do? Admittedly, sometimes. It was easy to say ‘editor.’ Full stop. But in having to stretch myself and adapt to new, unfamiliar roles, I’ve been able to identify more of my passions, and that’s allowed me to have a better definition of who I am. So go ahead and ask!

  5. I came to this realization a couple of years back, during my dating days in my 20’s. I was working in a job that I loved, and as an aspiring career woman, I was proud of it. I found however, that as a conversation piece, it became very boring, and it was starting to depart from who I actually was, and I lost track of who I wanted to become.
    My job took more of me than 9-5 Monday to Friday, as I traveled around North America almost 100% of the time. It was fun, but as the first conversation with a potential-date, it seemed the person was more interested in what I did as a job, than who I was and what I did as a person…I was more than my job – I mean, I play sports, love to cook and entertain friends, am engaged in my community and my family…
    I would overhear my wing-girl’s conversations, and since she had recently been laid-off, she was unemployed. The conversation would quickly cover the ground of what happened, and then they would talk about anything else that seemed much more interesting – like their interests!
    I admit that I did use the “I’m unemployed” line once or twice to see where it would take the conversation. What I didn’t realize until I left my job to begin my MBA, was that I had made my job a significant part of my identity. I had a completely unexpected identity crisis. I was able to get past the crisis and now I think more about who I am, how I think about myself and who I want to be. I realize now that it’s not necessarily what I’m doing, but how I’m doing it, that makes me interesting. If I’m not living with passion, taking an interest in who I and being compassionate to the people around me, this is going to be one long boring journey!

  6. I was recently in a weekend long situation where I was asked repeatedly the question, “so what do you do at work”? Because my job title not something I proudly shout from the roof tops the answer I gave was more about what I think I do at work. Over the course of the weekend I put together a fairly consistent script that make me realize maybe for the first time (I have been in my current position for 1 year) the real contribution I make at work independent of the job title I was given.

    While my job isn’t entirely how I define myself I am happy to see that what I do is consistent with who I want to be. All this insight from avoiding the job title and focussing not on the what I do but more on the why I do.

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