Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 12.30.58 PMWhen I tell people I’m a writer, usually their eyebrows rise with intrigue. “Ohh, so you’re a writer? Who do you write for?” they ask, seemingly impressed by that six-letter title. Judging by their reactions, I assume they regard me as an exciting creative type, gutsy, unusual and exceptional, which kind of makes me uncomfortable, perhaps because that’s not at all how I see myself. A few of those descriptions are true, but they certainly can’t be applied to all writers simply because the word writer doesn’t define an individual—it simply describes what one does.

Not that my choice to write for a living doesn’t suggest something particular about me (I’m literate and perhaps slightly masochistic), or that I shouldn’t be proud of what I do, but it’s just that job titles alone don’t mean very much. Behind those titles are ordinary people who’ve arrived at their present professional posts as a result of decisions (intentional or not) and life circumstances. Would those same people have the same visceral reaction to me if my chosen profession was a coffee shop cashier? I’d venture to guess they wouldn’t.

Case in point, a recent night out with friends led to a discussion about someone who works at a coffee shop after having held a job in the office that has employed some or all of us or one point or another.

“Yeah, she works in a coffee shop,” someone said repeatedly. The emphasis on those last two words teemed with condescension.

“Oh shit,” I thought to myself. I’d been thinking about applying for something similar to supplement my income. Writing for money can be a fickle business, but these bills damn sure aren’t.

For the longest time, I fancied myself a career woman in a corporate office with an important executive title and the ability to command Devil Wears Prada level of respect from anyone in my presence. Success meant a job title that mattered. My sense of self-confidence and value were hinged upon that title as well. Little by little I encountered lawyers, doctors and other professionals whose titles automatically garnered them respect. Only the way some of these people conducted themselves showed that they didn’t necessarily deserve it.

So this dinner conversation had me thinking, what’s in a job title? And to what extent should a job title define someone? I realize that the significance varies depending on the setting. For example, you might not see a problem with befriending the guy who works at the local fish spot, but you might not consider him as a prospective partner. Or would you? But generally speaking, judging someone based strictly off their line of work isn’t completely fair. Who knows where that person was before they landed that position, or more importantly where they’ll be afterwards?

Personally I’ve gone from chasing professional titles to pursuing simplicity, peace and an income that’s enough to sustain me. And if I can get that by combining this word hustle with a coffee shop gig, that doesn’t make me any less worthy or respectable than someone who earns their living in a profession that requires them to wear a suit instead of jeans. Whether they answer the phones or have a secretary take their calls, manage a staff or are among those being managed, all that matters is that the individual holding the job is satisfied with it. In the end, a person’s profession should have no bearing on how they are treated.

Clutchettes, to what extent do you allow your job title to define you, or dictate how you treat another person?

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  • Great post, Kenya. In capitalist America, status, power, privilege and prestige are inherent elements of all job titles, so I don’t think it matters much what we think about our own job titles, as much as it does what others think about it. To address your question, though, I’ve never found shame in my job titles (I’ve worked as a cashier/cook at McDonald’s, an associate about Marshall’s, etc.) and I actually took pride in my work (not to say that I never got annoyed or considered quitting, LOL). So my job titles defined me in the way that I was proud of my work, whatever it was. I also like to think that I’ve treated people with respect and dignity, despite their job titles. For instance, I don’t go to restaurants and mistreat waiters. Whether someone is a teacher, writer, waiter, doctor, bus driver, janitor, sex worker, or whatever, I try to treat them with the same respect that I want. I’ve always had a keen sense that our society is an interdependent one, wherein everyone depends on someone else’s labor in one way or another. Bearing that fact in mind, when I encounter people of different job titles, I treat them as an equal.

  • I loved this post, especially since I’m a writer (assistant editor is my official job title) who’s considering getting a retail job to supplement my income.