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Career Myth - the Myth of the Title

9 May 2018

Are you aware of the myths that might be subconsciously impacting decisions you make about your career?

Myths are stories that are widely held; stories that may once have been useful, but no longer are.  They are false beliefs, but they persist because enough people still tell the story of them as if they are true.  Myths by their very nature surround us like air, often going unnoticed and unchallenged.  We accept them like they are true without ever really questioning them. 

Career is a topic that is shrouded with myths.  

These myths act to unnaturally shape what we believe we can think and tell ourselves about our careers.  Myths limit and narrow expectations, and make it more difficult than it needs to be to feel fulfilled and happy in this thing called career.   This is frustrating enough when you know what the myths are.  They are confounding and often depressing when you are unconscious of them yet they impact you.

Expanding on an article I wrote several years ago over the next few articles I would like to bring light to some common career myths that often unconsciously hold people back from trying out different career pathways. In examining these myths you might just get a chance to dispel some.  At a minimum I hope you at least get to acknowledge and see through their pervasive power. 

In today’s article let’s start by looking at one that many of you will be aware of already, the Myth of the Title.

The story told through this myth is that you need to pursue a specific title in order to experience career flourishing.  Many of us are first exposed to this myth when we are around 4 or 5 years old.  It comes with the words: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  While spoken with kindness these words seed in us, from a very young age, several limiting factors about how we view career.  

The idea planted at this tender age is that career is about having a title and being able to say “I am a fireman” or “I am a dentist” or “I am a shopkeeper, gardener, banker…”  Children are rarely rewarded with smiles from adults should they reply that they want to try out lots of different things, or that they want to skip from one title to another, or that they want to make up a new title.  Consequently this myth perpetuates and becomes an unquestioned thing – the unquestioned belief that having a good career is about having something that has a distinct title, and the more coveted that title the better.  Please stop asking children this question.  Instead ask they what their super power is - you will get a much more engaging answer.

An insidious consequence of this myth is that it limits our imagination to what has been invented before.  Yet the modern world of work is one that is evolving and changing at a staggering rate with many old titles becoming redundant and new one emerging daily (e.g. Do you know what a cage diver does?).  Our rapidly advancing world with complex emerging challenges needs people who are willing to open themselves to exploring and inventing new ways of work, in new places, at new times, in new format and with new titles.  The individuals who are more open to different models of career will experience more personal growth and will build greater career capital and a have a wider range of skills.

Another factor  impacted by the Myth of the Title is that many people do not flourish with just one career path.  The term multipotentialite has been coined to describe people who are intelligent, curious, and capable of success in a wide range of careers.  These people are not designed to have one conventional career path. They have particular skills in learning, creating, and seeing the connections between new things.  The gift they bring to the world of work is that of sitting across and integrating many areas.  Again, in our increasingly complex world this talent is very needed. 

The Myth of the Title can see multipotentialites, and/or those around them, deem their exploration and curiosity to be unhealthy.  They second-guess themselves, and their loved ones often try to steer them to stability.  The result is people who are bored and frustrated, with simmering or suppressed anger that people around them just don't get them, so they conform and their multi-potential is lost.

Underlying the Myth of the Title is status.  As humans we all covet status and titles are a shortcut to this.  Unfortunately, status triggers a whole world of bias.  The pervasiveness of this myth has us assess people by their title rather than through the impact they have, the positive change they create, the meaning and purpose they connect to, and the joy they bring to their workplaces.  What if we didn’t immediately ask people what they do when we first meet them and allowed ourselves to get to know someone through the way they show up rather than through the filter of their title?  Imagine how interesting we would be to others, and how interesting they would be to us, if we ditched introductions that focused on title and instead introduced each other through what we really want to be know for - our creative pursuits, our deep knowledge on a topic, our care for a cause, our practical skills, our fascination with a problem...

The Myth of the Title can keep people who have a coveted title stuck in pathways they do not find fulfilling.  It can cause people who do not have a valued title to feel inferior regardless of how much they may enjoy what they do.  I know the Myth of the Title has seen people pursue leadership roles, even though they prefer to do technical work rather than people work.  I have seen the Myth of the Title have people turn down opportunities to work on really interesting projects very suited to their skills because they were concerned how they would explain it to their friends or loved ones.  I have seen people early in their career journey dismiss options they didn’t think were ‘sexy’ enough, and people considering career change to overly narrow their options.

How much do you think the Myth of the Title is impacting your career thinking?

As always wishing you a flourishing career.


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