Titles Can Be Dangerous Things

Last week I was filling out a form that asked for my name and title.  Not wanting to be defined by any of my titles, I did something I’ve never done before.  I wrote “human being.”

It felt great to rebel against this culture that puts so much emphasis on what a person does and so little on who they truly are.  I was proud of myself for taking a stand and thought it might afford an opportunity for discussion.  However, no one said a word.

I know titles are necessary for identifying responsibilities.  Yet, if we rely on them for anything beyond that, they are apt to do more harm than good.  In fact, there are two things that can be rather dangerous about titles.

Titles put us in a box

When meeting someone new it is common to ask, “What do you do?”  When I was primarily a homeschool mom, I hated that question.  As soon as I answered it, I knew from experience that many career-minded people would cease to engage.

As a result, I came up with a more holistic variation of that inquiry.  Depending on where I happen to be, I always ask the question like this: “What do you do when you aren’t at a __________?”  It works in any situation, from a business conference to a baby shower.

I don’t know why, but this question tends to make people laugh. Then, they proceed to answer however they want.  Since it offers a much wider canvas for painting a picture of who they are as a person, the danger of being put in a box diminishes beautifully.

Titles give us a false sense of importance

We each have many titles.  Yet, for some reason our culture only esteems job titles – especially prestigious ones.  As a result, we want our job title to sound like it has power and influence.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting successful careers.  In fact, the title itself isn’t the problem.  The danger comes when we use it to make us feel important.

The only way to know for sure if you have fallen into this trap is to demote yourself from CEO to dishwasher.  If your self-esteem plummets, then you’ve probably been using your title to bolster your sense of worth.  It’s easy to do, because that’s the reward system the world has created.

The truth, however, is that what we do for a living has very little to do with who we are as a person – and absolutely nothing to do with our value.  Our job might reflect part of who we are, but it’s not the whole picture.  Neither is it capable of giving us value that lasts.

After spending most of my life being a human doing, I am enjoying getting back to the basics of simply being human.  It’s not easy, but what I like about it is that it puts us all in the same boat.  And that, my friend, is exactly where we belong.

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” – Martin Luther King Jr.