Children are often asked what they want to do when they grow up.
The questioning does not end with childhood or even adolescence. Many young adults are still searching for the answer even after college. The answer is important since today’s materialistic society places a lot of emphasis on what people do. As a result, marks of perceived status help provide insecure people with some kind of identity.
One key measurement of status is a job title. This disordered world delights in assigning labels that highlight social standing, often to the point of absurdity.
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Now it appears companies are becoming more creative in assigning titles. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, companies are finding inventive ways to attract more highly-skilled and younger employees. Yesterday’s research and development technician is now a “technology visionary.” The sales manager might become today’s “product evangelist.” One Virginia-based web development firm is looking enthusiastic researchers to act as “developer evangelists.”
A Forbes Magazine article spotlighted other creative titles that have appeared over the past decade. The pretentious title of “genius” describes the service technicians in Apple retail stores. The publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt assigned to receptionists the title of “director of first impressions.” The Matrix Group calls its CEO the “Chief Troublemaker.”
Why All the Fuss
The proliferation of titles is a relatively modern phenomenon. In pre-modern times, most young people had an idea of their future profession. These decisions were made before, not after going to college. Each generation naturally thought in terms of bettering the family’s fortunes. Thus, most young people advanced in the same or similar professions as those of their parents. More ambitious siblings would venture out to find fortune in other occupations.
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With industrialization, more educational options, and economic prosperity, the patterns changed as young people were told that they could be anything they wanted, anywhere they wanted to be. There were no material limits as to what a person might achieve or how far they might fall into misery. People sought solemn and important titles that highlighted their accomplishments and hard work.
The revolt of the sixties overturned the old paradigm of economic success and promoted the idea of personal fulfillment. People were encouraged to live undefined and free lifestyles without the restrictive labels of family and normal jobs. Titles were disparaged as being part of the establishment. Young people were free to be anything or nothing as long as they were happy.
New Titles of Insignificance
The proliferation of new titles fills a need in the cultural wasteland that now dominates society. The shallowness of life has led to situations in which people sense a lack of identity, meaning, and purpose. Young people perceive a need to appear as if they are doing something extraordinary. They want to be special amid the ordinary existence of daily life that can often be boring and difficult.
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Thus, avant-garde corporations enhance the “employment experience” with job titles that convey the idea of relevance. This is especially needed since the freedom-loving millennials and post-millennials don’t like to be tied down to a job. The hollow titles help reassure people that they are extraordinary even when doing quite ordinary tasks.
Status Built on Sand
Trying to find permanence in such fleeting situations and sham titles may be the real essence of what Our Lord was saying when he described, “a foolish man that built his house upon the sand” (Matt. 7:26).
What is missing from the lives of so many young people is a sense of “calling” or “vocation.” This used to form the foundation upon which youth built their future. In the early stages of their lives, young people would discern their calling in life as a means of utilizing God’s greatest gifts to them. Each individual would sense a unique mix of characteristics, talents, and inclinations and desire to put it to its best use.
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In his book Habits of the Heart, the late sociologist Robert Bellah said that “A calling links a person to the larger community, a whole in which the calling of each is a contribution to the good of all.” It establishes a sense of place and purpose in which people can see their roles in society while preserving the freedom to pursue the many options this discernment opens up. The traditional moorings of family and religious life bind people together and create the conditions for meaningful lives aimed at sanctification.
Pretentious job titles will pass away. No one is fooled by what men call them. The important thing is being called by God to be that which will truly fulfill and sanctify the person.