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Dive 5: Why your job title destroys your self-worth… but there’s an antidote
Hey, it’s Alvin!
Last week I watched part of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. And there was a specific symbolic moment that stood out to me because it offers a valuable life lesson.
After days of lying in state, the Queen’s coffin was driven to Windsor Castle in a long procession. Within the castle’s precincts, the coffin made its way to St George’s chapel for the committal service.
Something I didn’t expect happened towards the end of the committal service at the chapel. The sceptre, the orb, and the crown were removed from atop the coffin. I was surprised because up until then; I assumed each monarch had their own crown that would be buried with them when they died.
There are, at least, a few reasons that wasn’t the case. One reason is because they’re traditionally used in coronation ceremonies. Her successors may need them. They symbolize the power of the active ruling monarch. But a Sky News commentator offered a slightly different perspective on why her sovereign symbols were removed:
In silence, the symbols of sovereignty will now be removed in order that Elizabeth can descend into the grave as a simple Christian soul.
Think about that for a moment: a person regarded with high prestige, status, and labels descended into the grave as a simple Christian soul.
But the royal family members aren’t the only ones with prestige, status, and titles. We all have them. Maybe not as grand, but we have them. And people today are more concerned with labeling themselves. Here’s why this is wrong:
I still remember my first class on my first day at university. A professor stood at the front of the class and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Professor W. And, yes, you have to call me professor. I didn’t spend 30-plus years in school to be called ‘Mister’.”
To this day, my reaction is “seriously?” Because over the years, I realized 2 things about titles:
Never pin your self-worth to a title.
Value precedes titles.
The main reason I don’t like to pin my self-worth to a title is because I know I don’t really own it. A title is bestowed on you by others. In fact, the values of titles, prestige, and statuses are all determined by other people.
And if it’s something others can give to you, it’s also something others can take away from you. You don’t control it. It’s not really yours.
If I call Professor W, “Mr. W,” I’m devaluing his “Professor” title. If no one used it, then the title would be worthless. I can only imagine the torment of having spent 30+ years in school to end up with something worthless. So, some professors like to force their students to use the title to give themselves the illusion that the title has value. But referring to someone by a title is like giving apologies. If it doesn’t come from the heart, it’s meaningless.
So, forget about titles.
I learned from getting leadership roles at work that a title is often a side effect of value you add. So, the trick is to shift focus away from titles towards adding value. Let me share with you the secret to getting promoted and relieving yourself of pointless stress.
Value precedes titles.
For many years, I was stuck as an intermediate software developer. By chance, I got to work with a mentor and team leader who was incredibly entrepreneurial. He took the initiative to solve almost every problem he encountered.
I was so inspired; I started doing the same thing. I started coordinating software deployment activities, helping whichever teammate was stuck on a problem, and proposed improvements to our software service. All this was done on top of getting my own work done on time. It was far more than what my role demanded. So, when the team leader left the company, the manager put me in charge of leading the team. I got the title, but only after I added value to the team. Some call this emergent leadership.
There are exceptions. But most promotions I’ve seen over the years were emergent. That’s because there’s also an added danger to getting the title before you prove yourself. A title is attached to specific expectations. If you don’t meet those expectations in time, your title will be taken from you. You might be fired.
When I think about the people I lost, I remember their titles, but their titles mean nothing to me. What means most to me is the impact they had on my life. I cherish the value they added, even something as simple as how they made me feel.
That’s why it’s time to stop the obsession over titles, prestige, statuses, and labels. Those are all immaterial things people obsessively collect, argue about, and fight for. Yet, at the end of the day, you won’t be remembered for any of that any more than the Queen is remembered for her sceptre, orb, or crown. If you want to live a meaningful life, add value to others.
Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
I hope you enjoyed this dive Below the Surface on titles. Reply to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or comments. Let me know what you think about titles, prestige, status, or labels. I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading. Have a wonderful day. And I’ll see you in the next one.