Monday, August 17, 2009

What's My Line?

Often, my kids will bring home forms to be filled in, asking for personal particulars and other information. This is usually a trivial task albeit mundane. But inadvertently, I will come to one question which stumps me: Mother's Occupation.

I never know what to write. 'Director' is printed on my namecards but appears too pompous on a school form. 'Writer' makes me sound like someone who pens Mr Midnight books. 'Editor'? Nah, I don't work for a newspaper. 'Entrepreneur'? Macam like I'm Sim Wong Hoo or that Bengawan Solo lady. 'Business woman'? Blecch. Don't even think about it.

Have you noticed that it's harder to pinpoint our occupation these days? When I was at school, we never had this problem. The occupations of my friends' parents could usually be summed up in one word - lawyer, engineer, hairdresser, housewife, businessman, hawker, doctor, teacher. Back in those days, my father was simply 'accountant'. In today's context, that would never do. He'd be a 'Financial Controller'. Or maybe 'Senior Financial Controller'. Or if you want to go really grand, 'Group Deputy Director, Finance'.

Over the years, titles have become longer and fancier. I don't know when it started but I think people and organisations just got so caught up with making themselves sound important that they have lost perspective. A title has come to define who you are and somehow, an upmarket title is supposed to enhance one's value. I acknowledge that words are powerful and 'Corporate Service Officer', for example, sounds better than just 'Clerk'. But it is still an artificial change, especially if it comes without accompanying salary or job adjustments. Worst still, companies sometimes believe their own propaganda - "by the way, since you're no longer a clerk, we have to increase your workload."

Nowadays, you can't tell what a person does by looking at his title which is rather ironic. Isn't that the whole point of a title? You would have thought that with longer titles, it'll be clearer what people actually did. On the contrary, the longer the title, the more vague it is.

Here are some real examples: 'Senior Executive, Resource Development Services'. 'Research and Evaluation Principal Officer'. And I am not making this up but I actually came across one 'Acting Senior Assistant Director'. Seriously! I wonder if there is a 'Senior Assistant Director' who isn't 'Acting' and another 'Acting Assistant Director' who is maybe not so senior. And by the way, Deputy Director is one up from Assistant Director.

It's quite clever really, you can create entirely new hierarchies of rungs to be extended on the corporate ladder so people can keep climbing for longer. This proverbial ladder, I assume is headed by the 'Very Senior Chief Executive Officer'. Well, if you're the Chief Executive Officer, then you probably don't need a long title. Unless you feel slightly intimidated by the 'Even More Senior Chairman of the Board'.

I've come to the conclusion that if you're really important, you don't need a lengthy title to prove that you're somebody. Hmmm... the most important person in the universe? God.

So back to school forms. I'm pretty sure I've used every one of those titles listed above interchangeably at some point or other (except 'Business woman'), depending on my mood at the time. If some administrator were to compile all the forms I've filled in over the years, he'd think that I am either some multi-tasking superhero or a schizophrenic.

I thought it didn't matter what I filled, it's just another administrative task, nobody cares right? But alas, one innocent form with 'writer' on it got me invited to speak at a career talk at my kids' school. And I detest public speaking so I might just scratch 'writer' from my list of choices. Maybe from now on, I'll just write 'mum'. Afterall, that's a full-time job.

12 comments:

The Chengs said...

I put on my namecard "Manager". Quite ambiguous. But well, I do TRY to "manage".

Anonymous said...

Blogger.
i'm not kidding. that's totally clear and now, it seems, an acceptable occupation regardless of race, language or religion. (and for that matter, age, sex and locality -- can blog at roadsides, bus stops, mrts, toilets.. etc!)

good luck. (i still think it's easier to explain your job than mine to parents...)

*grin* - kjj

elan said...

Hi Mon,
You are a Writer and a very good one at that! Or what about putting down "Writer-who-doesn't-give-career-talks" or Corporate Communicator or Communications Director, Communication Specialist or just Communicator...
Lucky for me I can still just put "doctor" hehe.

Anonymous said...

:) Mum is the best full time job though some may not agree with me when they are driven up the wall. LOL

monlim said...

Wonderful, now I have 4 more suggestions! Enough to keep forms at bay for a while :) I must say Elan, I like your "Writer-who-doesn't-give-career-talks" suggestion. With hyphens, it still counts only as one word, right? :P

The Chengs said...

What I HATE is that when I put on school forms "Manager", those employed by MOE (in school lah) will not fail to change it to "Manageress". *sigh*.

monlim said...

Ooh, I hate that too! Gender bias...

Liv said...

Wondering if you've considered the title 'Business Owner'.

justpassingby said...

Haha, yeah, I once mused to my hubby about a form I saw that had occupations listed separately for male and female. And if you're a female, married and unemployed, you're a "housewife"... but if you're male, married and unemployed, then you're just "unemployed". No "househusband" option. LOL.

Me? I tell people I'm Prime Minister of the Home... and the hubby is President. Haha. Sometimes I write "Homemaker". Sometimes I write "Housewife". I think I've also ever written, in an angsty moment, on a non-official form (you know, for like contests and that kind of rubbishy thing) "supermom". Haha. It used to be easier before when I was just "teacher". Even that has changed. They are now "Educators". Pllllttttttt.

But I guess, if you really wanted to know my job, I could put it down as "mom-wife-teacher-chauffer-dance'class'coordinator-sunday'school'teacher-homework'supervisor-financier-disciplinarian-occasional'chef-entertainer-cleaner-washer-role'model-OG'tutor-quack'doctor" LOL... how's that for a mouthful? And it's still one word. Haha.

monlim said...

Cheng: I'd like to see the faces of the administrators when they see the form! And regarding the gender differentiation, really hate that. If anyone tries to call me an "authoress", I'd smack them on the head.

The Chengs said...

You know, it's that Student Particulars Form that they have us update every year? It will come computer-printed with data based on what you've filled in the year before and then you have to strike out and change any parts that have changed? I think it's keyed in by some data entry clerk lah.

Worse yet, my poor husband, he likes to put his occupation as some unassuming title (in property line), then the data entry person changed it to "Property Agent" last year, much to husb's chagrin(!!!), so I simply changed it to "Consultant" this year for him. *sian*.

Anonymous said...

Ah...."Direc(ts)tress" ---> directing stress to/from children, this is what we mums balancing everyday. LOL

qx

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