Pre-Review: Why I'm Nervous and Excited to Read Sarabeth Berk's "More Than My Title"
As I sit here, watching old seasons of Project Runway as a reward to myself for finishing grading all of my students' papers, I hear my phone chime and look up to see one of my favorite email notifications: "Your book order has shipped."
Particularly in this season of quarantine, I am finding myself with more reading time on my hands that would have been spent commuting or holding office hours between classes. What this extra time has also given me, unfortunately, is more time to stew on the uncertainties of the future - particularly as it revolves around my career. As such, reading has become a bit of an escapist practice in response to these thoughts that I would rather put away for the time being. Isn't a global pandemic stressful enough?
It was because of this state of mind that I was excited when Berk's new book, More Than My Title: The Power of Hybrid Professionals in a Workforce of Experts and Generalists, popped up on my recommendations list last week. Marketed as a part of the "Hybrid Professional" series, which is Berk's signature, I was immediately struck by the title. In fact, the word "Title" on the cover itself was hard for me to swallow. The word felt like both an attack and a long-lost dream.
What is my title? Do I even have a title? How can I be "more than my title" if I struggle to comfortably name my role in any of my work spaces? As an adjunct professor at multiple universities, I have more flexibility than most in my practice; however, I also am more isolated from peers and mentors than any other academic professional. I am a floater. A generalist. An expert not yet-proven. All of this wrapped up in the title of "adjunct." Berk wants us to reclaim our titles as badges of promise and it is for this reason I am nervous to read what she has to say. Yet, Berk is also rallying against an outdated mode of title-emphasis in professionalism and for this reason I am excited to explore more of what she has to say. I guess you could say I'm in a bit of a hybrid-mentality already in my approach to this topic.
I actually love the world "hybrid" - what a resounding declaration of both transient power and unnameable terror! It's why I have always been fascinated by the image of the Chimaera from Greek mythology - a fire-breathing female monster resembling a lion, goat, and a dragon all in one. She embraces the fear she instills in others not because she aims to dominate, but because she refuses to be dominated by those who don't understand the power of embodying multiple faces in one body. And while I admit my fascination with this image, I still cannot boldly state that I know how to fully embrace the idea as one I enact myself. Hybridity, that fluid state of being all and nothing at once, is terrifying for someone in academia. I hear too often that I'm too spiritual to be critical, too theoretical to be applicable, too adaptable to be unique. What am I, then? I know I'm a teacher. A good teacher. I know I have a passion for people and words. I know I thrive when I have students to lead. But those aren't titles... unless, they can be.
This is what I hope to explore in Berk's new book. Will my fears be assuaged? Will my questions be answered? Stay tuned, friends.