What's wrong with being defined by our titles?
Many of us don't think it matters. I never did. Until there was a change that made me rethink how much I let my career define my identity.
For the first 15 years of my career, I made a choice to be defined by my career. It led to a fast rise in my company and roles all over the US and Asia.
I was the first Asian American woman in my career path to be promoted to the top 1% of my company. I had great mentors, and worked in 2 international assignments. I presented to the highest level of executives in one of the world's largest consumer products companies. I was flying high with my superhero career cape.
Then I crashed.
In what felt like a heartbeat I had a series of changes that turned my world upside down. One month I was in on top of the corporate world in Singapore and the next I was on a 9 month leave of absence reading Dr. Suess and Curious George to my 5 year old nephew.
When I was ready to return to work, my managers supported my request to move to California, and I landed in Los Angeles. At the time the only role available was one management level lower. It was a godsend - perfect for easing back into work. Then one short year later, a role at the higher level opened up, and I returned to my former management position and duties.
It's been years since that transitional assignment, and no one remembers that I was at a lower level.
I remember that role because I let myself be defined by my title. Not by the current title, but by the loss my former title. I spent more time worrying about what others thought of me than what I thought of myself. I sometimes felt the need to whisper to people, "hey, I am a higher level person working in a lower level role…"
I spent more time being defined by my title than defining myself.
Why do we pin our identities to something we can’t control, instead of focusing on something we can?
Whether your title is stay-at-home mom or SVP, you are more than that title. And no matter if you're working in a transitional job, doing volunteer work at your kids' school, or living your dream, who you are and what defines you is a matter of you, not your circumstances.
When I described myself by my title, I felt a sense of pride from external recognition. My identity came from the outside and pointed in.
Today I define myself by my mission. I focus on who I am, what I stand for, and what imprint I will leave on this world. Now I feel a sense of passion and excitement that starts within and extends outwards in service of others.
And somehow, it’s not about me anymore.
NOTE: this post was first published on April 13. 2104
Looking for more insight about leading without a positional power? Here's a post about leading through influence: Don't Wish for Power; Wish for Influence