I never was good at fitting into other people’s boxes. Therefore, one of the main reasons I’ve been an independent consultant for about a decade is that independence offers considerable freedom to define myself, my roles, and my work.
This freedom is what’s allowed me to keep working at the forefront of the editorial side of new media, because I can explore new directions, trends, tools, and skills at will. I like being on this edge, because to me the most exciting paths in media are the ones that aren’t yet well worn.
Since I provide a different blend of skills and services that many of my colleagues offer, it makes sense for me to define myself to the working world with a title that, I think, reflects the role and direction I’ve chosen for myself. Consequently, my title has undergone considerable evolution. Currently, I bill myself primarily as a conversational media consultant, and also as a content strategist, writer, and editor. Often in discourse I shorten that to “media consultant” or just “consultant” on first mention, but when I introduce my full title into the discussion that gives me a good opening to describe what I really do.
I’ve worked hard to earn the respect of my colleagues and others. I’m proud of my work. So I’ve got to admit: It rankles me when I see myself referred to as a “self-styled ‘conversational media consultant'” as if defining myself is somehow a bad or questionable thing…
Most recently, the “self styled” caveat was lobbed in my direction by Bob Farley. I doubt he meant any disrespect by it (especially since his article was complimentary toward me), so I bear him no ill will. But this has happened often enough over the last few years. I feel like I finally need to say something about it.
Yeah, I’m “self-styled,” and damn proud of it. I’ve taken big personal and professional risks to do exactly the kind of work I think suits me best. For the past decade I haven’t played it safe by sheltering within a major media organization, even during the lean years of online media following the dot-com crash and Sept. 11.
I’ve held more “traditional” roles too: journalist, editor, managing editor, project manager, researcher, conference coordinator, administrative systems director… Heck, I’ve even been a bank teller (and I learned a great deal from that undervalued job). I’m not opposed to conventional, pre-defined professional roles it’s just not where I choose to spend my career.
As I’ve worked extensively in media, especially online, I’ve seen the field of conversational media emerging from formerly disparate channels and trends. I think this field deserves more focus in its own right, so I’m focusing on it. I didn’t invent the term “conversational media,” and I feel no ownership toward it. Conversational media accounts for the bulk of my consulting work, so that makes me a conversational media consultant. If other people want to start calling themselves conversational media consultants, I’d be fine with that and in fact I expect that to happen increasingly in coming years.
Fields and titles evolve, especially where technology is involved. I understand why people generally feel more comfortable with familiar titles and roles. Change is never comfortable, and it’s often fraught with bumps and challenges.
Still, when you see an unfamiliar title, why denote it as suspect by enshrouding it with unnecessary quotation marks, or by adding subtly derogatory caveats such as “self-styled” or “so-called” as if to say “Well, it’s not a real title.” Regardless of intention, I personally find that dismissive.
I know better than to expect that sort of thoughtlessness to stop, so I have been rolling with it gracefully for many years. Generally I just laugh it off. One time, when I was identified in a major national magazine as a “so-called online media consultant” (my primary title at that time) I wrote back to say I was glad to be covered in a “so-called magazine.” The editor took that quip in stride, and agreed that the caveat had been unnecessary.
People are, or should be, free to define themselves except for roles which by law require specific training, licensing, election, or certification (such as neurosurgeons, governors, and master plumbers).
So the next time you’re about to write “self-styled” or “so-called,” think carefully about what you’re implying. You might actually be saying more about yourself than whoever you’re trying to describe.