“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
― Sheryl Sandberg

The Difference Between "Doing Your Job" and "Owning Your Role"

The Difference Between "Doing Your Job" and "Owning Your Role"

Written by Hannah Grassie


I rummaged around on all fours collecting a tangle of clothing that had fallen off the sale rack. I managed to hold on to a few broken plastic hangers as I stood up. My khaki pants had dusty brown spots where the knees had been pressed into the cement floor. Behind me stood a skeptical manager: “Did you get your permission slip signed?” I pulled a folded piece of paper from my pocket and passed it to him. A parent’s signature was required for teenage employees to work overtime.

It was my final December at home before graduating high school. Although the prospect of an employee discount initially drew me to the job, the days consisted less of window shopping while folding T-shirts and more of mom-approved overtime, grumpy customers and an endless loop of holiday music. I confess, this job held little meaning for me. When the New Year arrived and I returned to school for my last semester, I was glad my time there had concluded. It was a just a job.

In college I started cleaning houses between classes to make money. (I’m a sucker for a good vacuum job.) As my house cleaning services became a topic of discussion in suburban social circles, I had job requests coming in with increasing regularity. I enjoyed grabbing a dust rag, putting my headphones in and doing mindless work. The flexibility was a perk and the people I worked for were kind and trusting. But to me, it was still just a job.

It wasn’t until graduate school that I began to grasp the benefit of fully committing to a job even when it’s not your “calling.” I was enrolled in an intense master’s program with heavy coursework. I had clinical hours that needed to be completed, a growing pile of homework and a meager social life, but I also needed to work to pay for my schooling. I was fortunate to get a paid graduate assistantship working for the university’s career center. Not only did this role require more hours than was recommended by my graduate program, it also came with additional responsibilities. I was keenly aware I was part of a team and the quality of my work impacted my coworkers and the office’s overall success.

While I completed my education, I learned how to be an asset to my team at the career center. I knew the nature of my position was transient, but I didn’t want to be another name in a long list of graduate assistants. I wanted to stand out. I started volunteering with projects, gaining confidence interfacing with companies recruiting from our university, and giving talks to students about how the career center could help them find jobs or internships. Although my assistantship had nothing to do with my degree, I recognized the value of working hard and distinguishing myself. I learned the difference between doing a job and owning a role—and my role was much larger than doing my job. As a result, I developed the skills to balance my time so I could excel in my clinical program as well as my assistantship.

During those two years I experienced fatigue in the monotony of my role and grew frustrated at the tiny bathroom stall where I routinely changed from scrubs to business casual (and back again). I wondered why I was committing myself so fully to a role that was unrelated to my field and questioned how it would impact my future. The benefit of sitting on this side of the experience is that I can confidently say it was worth it. I’m proud of the skills I developed and the way I completed my work. In the following years, I focused on a few areas in an effort to replicate this approach:

Know the basics

When I find myself in a new job or with new responsibilities, I learn what is expected of me. That makes me more effective in owning my role. Once the role is clearly defined I commit to completing work tasks to the best of my ability. This sequence generates familiarity as I perform my role with consistency. It also highlights how I fit into the already-existing team dynamic.

Distinguish yourself

Considering the multitude of other professionals who have the same degree, I need to know what distinguishes me. By identifying my strengths and finding ways to integrate them in my daily interactions, I spend less time focusing on tasks better suited for other people. Instead, I allocate my energy to bringing value to the team. I target skills I want to grow and look for ways to acquire them.

Be a resource

Once I pinpoint my strengths, I don’t keep them to myself. I find ways to integrate them into the team’s performance and provide the best care to our clients. I look for additional methods to add value to the team and actively pursue them. For example, years ago, there was a specialized certification I was pining after. During an extended period of denials for funding I focused on being resourceful with my skills that were already in place and looked for more opportunities to grow. In time, I completed the certification and went on to serve my company in a specified role. As a result, I became an asset and resource which the company could use, while simultaneously stepping closer to my own professional goals.

Perform the boundaries balancing act

Being a great team player and an asset in the workplace is often correlated with more responsibility. Most of the time, this is a good thing. However, a byproduct of more work is often more work. When I am given additional responsibilities or asked to take on new projects, I compile my list of duties, compare them with my previously determined goals, and decide either “Yes, I can add that to the list” or “Nope, that needs to be delegated elsewhere.” Balance begets sanity.

To be an asset to the team I work with, I can’t be just another employee. I take time to focus on my role, claim my part of the employer’s larger vision and utilize my skill set to improve our product or service. I take an active role in learning the things I do well and identify the areas that need attention. Regardless of whether I’m sorting clothes, dusting a bookshelf or providing one-on-one care to a client, I am confident my work impacts those around me. I no longer take on “just another job,” but instead use my skills to be an asset to the team, claiming success through the quality of my work and owning my role.


Hannah resides in Washington, D.C. and works in healthcare in the metro area. She is a Speech-Language Pathologist who specializes in Parkinson’s disease. She created The Parkinson’s Report, an online blog and resource for the Parkinson’s community and loves her job tremendously. In her free time she reads good fiction, takes walks with her dog, and travels with her husband.

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