Who Are We Without Our Titles?

I remember the days when I felt micromanaged. At the time I was young and naïve; I was kind of afraid of those managers. I was also brought up to be a nice girl who respects everyone, especially people who are older than me and those who had “bigger” titles than mine. I did not feel a lot of respect towards them but I was intimidated. I did not want to pursue tasks or requests that came through them that did not align with my values but they still had this power over me.

Those moments were always rough. I did not have the experience or the language I have now to make sense of it. So I followed the rules as much as I can. Something always felt off though.

I never forgot the moment when I realized they were just another human being who had no power over me as soon as I quit that job. They still had the “manager” title but we did not have that work relationship anymore. I don’t know why but that was an odd, shocking moment for me. I did not see the reality until I experienced it. At that moment, I recognized again that we are all human, after all, titles are temporary and they can be taken away from you in a second. Who will you be when you do not have that title? Where will your power come from?

It also seemed ridiculous to use your title as your power. We are equal. We are the ones who put that weight on titles. Titles give us identity.

Then I had this intense experience with titles and identities when I moved to a new country. It felt like I was simply nobody. Wow! That was a strange feeling.

All of a sudden, I was not an IBMer, I was not somebody who had zillion friends to hang out with, I did not belong to any company, I was not the graduate of a college that is well-known, I was not the member of an intellectual and respected family, I was not even a credit card holder or a credible person (since they did not think my 10 years of using common credit cards like AMEX, Visa, Mastercard mattered because it was not in the US and of course, I had no credit history). These were only some of the identities I built over the years. It seemed none of them mattered in this new life I chose. I was starting from scratch.

It was a big awakening to see my titles, where I live, how much money I make, what I own, my health is all temporary. I no longer wanted to be defined by them. Obviously, I found some of my worth through those identities, and with one decision I made, they were gone. I did not want to be in that position ever again.

Who am I with no titles and no identities then?

That was the question I dwelled in.

It was almost an out-of-body experience although for the answers I needed to take an inner journey. It was scary at first and it is one of the best journeys I took. Even if I have nothing left, if I am ripped of all the new identities I acquired here in my new country, I got to know who I really am. It is one of the most freeing feelings because I am constantly reminded no external recognition, no titles, no amount of earthly possessions can steal that away from me.

I am the same person wherever I work, whatever I do, wherever I live.

I may have never taken this journey if I was not forced with the decision to live somewhere new. I am grateful though ‘cause it sure is a journey worth taking.


Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erol started her career at IBM following the traditional path she was given to be "successful". She quit her "great job" on paper after 11 years, feeling she is not aligned with it. She started her journey to find her purpose in life. She started her first business in 2003; Your Best Life to help professionals who don’t like their jobs and want to find more meaning at work. After being around so many unhappy people at work as her clients, she decided to help the organizations and leaders who employed them. She started her second business; Purposeful Business to help leaders catch up with our times and grow their businesses without sacrificing the well-being of their people; where profit becomes a by-product rather than the main goal. She believes life is too precious to live only for weekends and retirement. She is the author of Create a Life You Love. She is also the co-author of "From Hierarchy to High Performance: Unleashing the Hidden Superpowers of Ordinary People to Realize Extraordinary Results" that became an International Best Seller in 2018. She speaks and writes about Leadership, Purpose-Driven Life and Organizations, Future of Work in the US, and abroad.

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  1. I could so recognize myself in the immigrant part of your story, Brooke, and in the painful but necessary work to rediscover what was most important to me and who I was deep inside when almost all the labels were open for replacement.

    It was very interesting to take part in a conference where I had given no information about gender, marital status, children, title, address, or anything to the other participants, all they knew about me was how I showed up in our group, to hear what they took away when there were no guiding labels.

  2. If you don’t pay attention to it, if you don’t ask yourself who you are, you get up every morning to wear the mask that others have tailored for you. Too many distractions, too many impositions from society, too often today we are who we should be. Not who we really are.
    At this point we have two options: accept to remain as we are or start working on ourselves. Work takes effort, but it allows us to explore and exploit our full potential.

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