What do you do?
When we meet strangers, we often start with the question “What do you do?”. This social practice is a quick way to get the gist of a person’s interests and tells us a lot about another person very quickly. It answers questions about power, social standing, interests, and significance or status. More importantly we will know if we have much in common with them.
Titles are for others, not ourselves.
In our company we’d rather have fun titles like Chief Rabble Rouser (my favorite role), Chief Safety Net (head of support), Chief Builder of Cool Stuff (developers) and Chief Brain Teaser (learning) instead of traditional titles. But we’re already kind of crazy with the cartoons so we decided our titles should be more helpful to customers than to simply entertain our egos. We’re not very status focused, but we do recognize that others want to talk with experts in each domain, so we titled ourselves with their needs in mind. That’s the best reason for titles I think. Not for us and our own pleasure, but so that others know how we can help them get what they need.
When no title is ever enough.
Yet when we seek titles because it seems like the next rung to climb on the ladder to success, then we seek it for the wrong reasons. I often see people go for a promotion and not think about what they will be doing when they get it, so when they arrive in the new role, they are not happy at all. When we strive to satisfy our ego’s need for status, it’s an insatiable endless vortex of wanting what we don’t yet have. Instead if we look for the work that we love — the thing we most love to be doing — and then name it after the fact or accept the name of the title customers might give it, then voila, we’re happy. Why? Because titles don’t make us happy. Mastery of the work we love does. It helps us get out of bed excited to get busy doing it.
Simple and clear.
The short of it? Our title does not really tell people who we are. I’ve often searched for another answer to that question that would give others what they really want to know. Like “I’m a free spirit seeking to be unique” or “I’m an insatiable learner” or “I’m a great mom or dad” or “I’m a news junkie” or “I’m a social networker”. Only then are we sharing what we truly spend a lot of our time and attention doing because we love doing it. This would be so much simpler and clear and honest.
What is a title anyway?
This week I’m going to ponder what I love doing with my attention. Maybe then I will understand how my title needs to be expressed or changed to serve those I most care about. It might even change everything.