When you meet someone new, how do you introduce yourself? “Hi, my name is [your name here]. I’m a ____.” How do you fill in that blank? You could plug a lot of descriptors into that blank space. You could share your current state of mind, your astrological sign, your parenting status, your home state, and a whole host of things in between. Odds are, however, that you’ve filled the blank space with your job title or some other general nod to your career. Likewise, you likely turned the question back to your new acquaintance by saying “And what do you do?”
This shouldn’t be surprising. In fact, for many, career and identity are intertwined. We are our work – or at least we think we are. There are a few inherent problems with this approach.
What About When You’re Not?
At some point the job you’re doing now is not the job you’re going to be doing. You could opt to sell your company. You may retire. You may be laid off. Whatever the reason, if your identity is your career, what happens when that job is gone? This loss of primary identity can foster a sense of insecurity and self-doubt. “I’ve always been a finance expert. Who am I?” If the shift comes at the heels of a job loss you didn’t initiate, it can have a negative impact on your self-worth.
Listen carefully: you are more than your job. You are so much more. If you wake up tomorrow to find out you’re out of work, sure, it’ll be disappointing. You might worry about finding something new before the severance package runs out. You may be concerned about a lot of things, but I hope you know that you’re still the same amazing, talented human you are today even if you don’t have the same job title to offer when you introduce yourself.
Where’s the Limit?
You’re a marketing pro. You’ve always been a marketing pro and you will always be a marketing pro. Period. End of story. That’s your identity. Right? There’s a risk of pigeonholing yourself when you’ve closely tied your identity to the job you do. You’re a marketing pro today. Tomorrow, however, you could be an entrepreneur launching her own boutique in a quaint downtown shop. If, however, you’ve so closely tied your identity to the job you hold today, seeing yourself in any other role could be formidable. “Sure, I’d love to have my own little boutique, but let’s be real. I’m a marketing director, not a shop owner.” If you think your dreams are out of reach because “I’m not a [fill in the blank], it’s time to step back and really evaluate how you’re defining yourself.
In this instance, your marketing prowess would be an asset to your dream role of entrepreneur. You wouldn’t be defined by your former role, but your experience in that space would benefit you in spades. You just have to be willing to step out beyond the label you’ve applied to yourself for so long. You have to be willing to accept your identity as a talented, hard-working individual who can do anything she puts her mind to.
What’s Your Priority?
We tend to invest our time and energy in the things that define us. That makes sense, right? If your identity is connected to your role as a Senior Sales Manager, you’re going to make tasks that are connected to being successful at your job (and the time required to complete them) at the top of your priority list. This means you may forgo a vacation. It means you may miss the kids’ soccer game because you’ve got to put in extra time to prep for a presentation. It may mean you’re hard-pressed to take time to work out or get enough sleep. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with putting in the time to be successful. The issue is when it consistently comes at the cost of other facets of your life.
Part Not Whole
Don’t misunderstand, none of this is to suggest that our job isn’t part of how we identify ourselves. This is putting our work in its proper space. It’s recognizing that work is about what we do, not who we are. You’re a multi-faceted gem, my friend. You are your hopes, your dreams, and your faith. You are your skills and talents. You exist in relation to those in your life as child, parent, spouse, partner, friend. You are your likes and your dislikes. You are your unique sense of humor and your compassion. You are a person who does a particular type of job. The real you is all of these things in one amazing person and when you honor all of those components, you will exceed your wildest expectations!