Distinguish Your Career Value by Defining Your Hybrid Job Title

— WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Words are arbitrary points of meaning. As Shakespeare pointed out in Romeo & Juliet, you can call a rose by a thousand other names, and it would still smell just as divine.

I remember when I met the leader of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. Instead of Adam Lerner’s title being executive director or president, his title was chief animator, and it was a title he chose himself. That threw me for a loop. What the heck did that mean? Aren’t animators people who work in animation?

I couldn’t conceive how his title equated to head honcho, but, he explained it to me. Lerner said that the way he saw his responsibility was to animate the museum, to bring it to life — the people, the exhibits, the programs, the operations. He worked behind the scene to make it happen. Once I heard that explanation, it all clicked. Of course! You can animate more than cartoon characters, you can animate organizations too. How clever, and original!

“The title Chief Animator always stuck with me. It certainly stood out from all the other executive directors I’ve met over the years. You can see how his unique title and definition of his professional identity left an indelible and lasting impression. Wouldn’t you want your professional identity to strike a chord too?”

We can use job title language more creatively — repurpose terms and invent new phrases — to define what we do. As professionals, we can defy traditional job titles, and it’s time we do. The future of our careers depends on how we define ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but I want to create the narrative about who I am and how I’m seen in the workforce.

When I’m given a label by a colleague or employer that doesn’t fit me, it actually dampens (or even damages) my reputation, self-esteem, and people’s perceptions of my capabilities. For instance, one of my talents is in design thinking, and for awhile, my coworkers called me the “design thinking guru.” While I took this affectionately at first, over time, I noticed how it pigeon holed me, and I felt stuck that this was the only skill people wanted me to use. In my own self-perception, I was more than a design thinking guru, I was a rose by another name.

However, I hadn’t named myself yet. I allowed myself to continue using the terms other people gave me. My formal job title was program director, and my nickname from coworkers was design thinking guru. Those were the professional identities I was given and those were the ones I used.

What I realized was that I needed to invent a name for my professional identity that captured how I saw myself, how I felt in my work, and how I wanted others to start referring to me.

“We have more power than we think we have in reshaping language to fit us, instead of the other way around. The future of our careers depends on how we define ourselves.”

— DR. SARABETH BERK

This was a crazy idea, at first. Who was I to call myself something other than what employers and the workforce told me I was? Wasn’t my job and my chosen field a reference point of my professional self?

No, not necessarily. Only if I wanted it to be. I finally saw that I had the power to convey who I really was at work, and I wasn’t using it.

Why You Should Define Your Own Job Title

I talk to people a lot about their job titles, and the universal truth I’ve learned is that job titles do not define us!

We define ourselves. Who we are in our careers is up to us to determine, name, and define.

Of course, if you have a formal job title in a company, you’ll have to use it, but you can still accompany it with the title you call yourself to provide even more depth and insight about who you are to your audience.

The reason it is absolutely essential that you define who you are in your career is that your definition is your value prop, and your value prop is what differentiates you and expresses your unique expertise. That’s what employers are trying to learn about you and what they want to hire you for.

You have to label and define your professional identity to be able to communicate your professional worth. If you keep using generic labels and titles designed by hierarchical HR systems, then you’ll always be lumped with thousands of other workers who share the same job title as you. Are you still wondering why nobody knows what you do?

Define your hybrid title. Here’s what you need to think about moving forward.

Define Your Hybrid Title

A hybrid title is a title you give to your hybrid professional identity. It’s a compilation of identity terms and labels, but in a new configuration, or it may be an entirely new word (like teacherpreneur). It’s a hybrid title because it represents the intersections up of your multiple work identities. Therefore, existing language is insufficient. You have to invent something new and never before used.

In the naming of your professional identity, don’t be afraid to appropriate language in new ways. Just because the title architect is usually associated with construction and dwellings, doesn’t mean it has to be. I’ve met people who are Idea Architects, Brain Builders or Data Architects. The word architect is a metaphor for designing and building. Same with the title doctor. You can be a Culture Doctor or a Systems Doctor to represent you’re talented at fixing and repairing organizations, much like medical doctors treat human conditions.

Once you land on a title for your professional identity (there’s much more to this process, which I discuss in my book), the most important part is for you to define what it means. Write down your own definition before looking at references for validation. Your intuition will guide you. Trust what it says.

Afterwards, you can look at the dictionary definition of each word in your hybrid title or use a thesaurus. See if the dictionary definition resonates with you and inspires any new detail to add to your definition. If it doesn’t resonate, then you can change your hybrid title and design one that better suits you. Ultimately, you create your own definition since this is YOUR hybrid title. That’s branding 101. The definition is yours to control based on your personal work history.

Remember, exactness, specificity, unique details about you, and ease of comprehension are what you’re driving for in your definition, much like the Chief Animator example I mentioned above. Not a light challenge, but you’ll get there. Let it be a game and allow irony and metaphors to emerge.

(Post originally published on morethanmytitle.com)

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