Ego/Expectations Management: Help me not fret about a change in title
June 18, 2019 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I am currently the co executive director of a small education non-profit. Before this I was the literacy director for a large middle school. Since January, I've been looking to return to interesting, district based work and I just accepted a great position. The work is challenging and awesome. The district is fairly functional. My boss seems like a reasonable person. But for the first time in a decade my title is not at the director or even manager level.'s really getting under my skin. I think I need some help re-framing.

I actually tried to negotiate the title before accepting the position since the work is director level (I manage five people across five school buildings, etc.) But it's a union position and flexibility is limited.

That said, I keep perseverating over the title issue. I feel like it makes my resume less coherent. That it may be an issue if I apply to doctoral programs down the road. That people will somehow think less of me or see me differently. And, this one is a bit harder to express, but I feel sad and frustrated in a way that feels related to being an ambitious woman in the workforce and an ambitious woman in education in particular. I feel simultaneously embarrassed that I care about my title and then pissed about that embarrassment. Because of course I should be allowed to care about title and compensation! (Right?!)

At the end of the day, I have accepted this job and I'm actually really excited about the work. My question is: what are thoughtful and productive ways to think about this? How can I re-frame this for myself? Why am I having such a hard time with this??
posted by jeszac to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you remind yourself that:
Your job is what you do—it is not who you are.
This reframing has helped me in multiple professional situations.
posted by bookmammal at 9:07 AM on June 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

On your resume feelings, while you may not have control over the title, you just make it very clear that you're working at a director level in the accomplishments/description.

"[Position Title] [Dates of Employment]
Managed and directed five associates across five school buildings..."

If it's helpful framing and mindset, my colleagues in HR have mentioned that it's a foolhardy affair to look at titles as a way of understanding a person's qualifications and they often ignore it since there's so much variability, preferring to look at the description.
posted by Karaage at 9:21 AM on June 18, 2019 [7 favorites]

My lack of PhD means that I can't hold the title I should for the level of work that I do. In conversation, I tell people what I do instead of giving them my job title. (In most cases, this is more useful information to them anyway.)
posted by metasarah at 9:37 AM on June 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you're blaming ego for something that's not ego-related. The gist is this: "I feel like it makes my resume less coherent," along with the other long-term career contour ramifications. That's strategic, not egoic, so I think your embarrassment is misplaced.

The important question is: how real are the long-term career ramifications?

You asked for reframing, so here goes: you've been placed in an unending competitive race since early childhood - before you had a chance to consciously register that it was happening - tasked with attaining the unattainable (vague rewards e.g. "success" which endlessly recede past the horizon as you approach). Through school, through college, through early's all we know, all we do. Climbing without quite knowing why, or to what specific end.

So is the career arc stuff just residual momentum from your third grade self seeking the next Girl Scout honor badge, or is your career something that truly requires cunning management? You've got this job, regardless, but maybe you need to scheme next moves. My guess is the former, i.e. residual momentum. You've got a job that seems like just the thing for you. You've arrived....but your engines are still revving.

The very hardest thing to do is to recognize victory. Quite seriously, it can take decades. This is what happens when we're conditioned to mindlessly race in meaningless circles. Once you've grabbed the ring, you have no means of registering it, much less coping with it psychologically.

In any case, I don't think it's ego/conceited. Egomaniacs never worry about their egomania (in fact, that's how you know).
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:52 AM on June 18, 2019 [7 favorites]

For what it's worth, when I review resumes (in a distinctly for-profit, non-educational role), I ignore job titles because of the difference in definition between organizations. This is especially true because lower-paying organizations tend to compensate for lower pay with more prominent titles.

That people will somehow think less of me or see me differently.

This happens. However, when I think about this, I ask myself the following question: if someone views me differently solely due to a job title, do I actually want to work for/with that person? When I've asked myself that question, the answer I came to was a resounding "no".
posted by saeculorum at 10:04 AM on June 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

I had a set of business cards printed once that gave my job title as "Peasant". They served as a reminder to pay no attention at all to how other people label my job.
posted by flabdablet at 10:52 AM on June 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I ignore job titles because of the difference in definition between organizations.

I'm a career nonprofiteer and I echo this. I once left a job with a high-level-sounding title at a 10mil organizatio where I supervised a staff of 3 direct and 40 indirects with a $180K budget for a job with a lower-level-sounding title at a 35mil organization where I supervised a staff of 12 with 70 indirects and a half-million-dollar budget . That's not a lateral or backward move no matter how you slice it. People at a senior level can read a resume with this kind of context in mind - you can also provide the context by providing those background facts for scale, which I do on my resume. The growth is obvious even if the title is misleading.
posted by Miko at 12:17 PM on June 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Something similar happened to me. I embraced it as part of stepping into a unionized environment. I really appreciated the benefits negotiated by the union, and I saw generic titles as one of the things that go along with the structured environment that they helped to create. I'll take an imprecise title and pre-established raises any day over getting a specific title but having to personally negotiate each and every pay increase!
posted by slidell at 2:28 PM on June 18, 2019

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