By Keita Rose-Atkinson • April 05, 2014•Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues
This month, my message is not the one I originally intended to share with you. But this idea just fell plop into my lap, and it was as if the universe said, “you have to share this in April.” And you know, when the universe speaks, it behooves you to listen. So this month, I’d like to share a few ways for you to ‘own your awesome.’ And not just in that happy, feel good pop psychology way. Own your achievements and abilities so that you can accurately assess and share what you have to offer the professional world. While you have to balance owning your awesome with humility and of course honesty, do not mistake being humble with underselling what you can accomplish. Being able to do this not only sets you up for greater personal happiness, it will also help you pursue the success you deserve.
Why Your Awesome is a Big Deal
If you had to come up with your dream job title, what would it be? Not your dream job, your dream job title. Think about it for a minute, write it down, and come back when you’re done. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Ready? Okay. If you are thinking about a path in nontraditional social justice, this is not simply a self-actualization exercise. It is one that you may very well have to engage in if you approach an organization to build your own or expand on an existing social justice position. When you apply for a pre-established position, it often comes with a title, which can give you insight as to how to relate to others within your organization as well as those outside of it. When you develop your own position, you are building not only the concrete aspects of your job but also the relational aspects as well. Especially in international contexts, titles can be used as indicators of value to a company. Your ability to share that value (in the form of a title or otherwise) affords you, at least in part, greater control over how others see and relate to you professionally.
I’m sure some of you may have seen this article about how girls learn to deflect compliments instead of acknowledging them with a simple ‘thank you.’ The author (correctly I think) related this to how women are continually socialized to deflect and minimize their accomplishments. I’ll take her point one step further to argue that this inability to accept a compliment is part of a broader gendered socialization that results in women being led to believe that being vocal about your accomplishments aka owning your awesome is ‘unladylike.’ Some women own their awesome better than Beyonce at a sold out concert. However, many of us, myself included, may sometimes find the thought of advocating for ourselves in the professional realm a bit daunting regardless of our objective achievements. But think about it. If you want your employer— the one you presently have or the one you want in the future— to value your contributions, you have to be able to both accurately assess and share what you can offer the work world.
Be the Awesome
It doesn’t take a barrage of jedi mind tricks to get yourself to own the awesome that is the professional you. Instead, take the objectivity that you likely use to view others and turn that on yourself. Stop being your own worst critic and become your best advocate. Take the job title exercise that we started with. Here are some tips on how to come up with a kick butt job title that accurately reflects the work you do:
- Get rid of descriptors that don’t fit. For example, even if I’ve been hired as a volunteer, once my work and professional responsibilities indicate otherwise, I tend to focus on those instead. Do not accept or use a title that may imply to others that your work is somehow outside of the professional realm if the work you do is valuable, respected, and important for those with whom you work.
- Take stock of your responsibilities and projects. Do a bit of research in the field to find the titles of others in similar organizations with similar tasks. Don’t be afraid to mix it up! Especially if the things you do are varied, there is nothing wrong with throwing in an ampersand or coming up with a two-part title as long as the end result isn’t overly cumbersome.
- Think about what titles you are comfortable with and why. Be honest with yourself. If you are leaning to a title that is similar to ones you’ve had the past, assess whether your comfort level is because this new position is actually like the old ones or you are afraid to see yourself in a new light. Especially for recent graduates (and those of us that still feel like recent grads!), the lure to remain an intern or a fellow can be strong, but resist boxing yourself in if the job you are doing doesn’t fit the title you want.
- Run your title choice by someone you know and trust. Ideally that person knows your professional history, abilities, and skillset. Choose someone who is not only a cheerleader and supporter of your endeavors but also encourages you to think beyond your comfort zone. Nothing like an objective voice to remind us of our capabilities.
You should also realize that many of these tips work just as well for any sort of workplace issue that calls for you to take ownership of your future and position yourself for forward movement. Particularly when you are on a nontraditional career path, it is important to make sure you are not taking a passive stance when it comes to professional growth. Instead of waiting for your employer to come to you about increased responsibilities or a promotion, use your accomplishments as proof that you deserve that boost you seek. Have confidence in your awesome and don’t let fear of a no prevent you from even asking.
Take Awesome to a Whole New Level
In the end, the bigger idea of ‘owning your awesome’ is to make sure you put those legal skills to use in your career even if you never set foot in a courtroom, review a contract, or file a motion in your life. You deserve to be your own best advocate in every aspect of your professional life. Do not leave it up to others, especially if you want to pursue a professional path that is not established or requires you to move outside of a traditional employment trajectory. Fast disappearing are the days when one could rely on the easy path to take us to the job of our dreams. The creativity that you must often bring to a job search nowadays, whether traditional or nontraditional, legally focused or not, domestic or international, should extend beyond looking for positions that align with your passions and abilities. Rewrite your resume to highlight transferable skills, look for opportunities to create legal positions in nonlegal organizations, and be open to suggesting job responsibilities, and yes job titles, once you do get an offer. When you are able to consistently highlight your skills and abilities to reflect the awesome that is you, you are in far greater control of your professional future. With that control comes the freedom to escape professional limitations, whether created by others or yourself.