In a culture where “what do you do for a living?” is the first thing someone asks after they learn your name, it’s hard not to let your job define your identity. We spend so much time at work and invest so much of ourselves into what we do. Sometimes it feels like work is all we ever do with our time.
Doesn’t that intrinsically mean it defines us?
It can certainly play a role in shaping us, but our professions do not define us. Let’s talk about why.
1. Work Is Not Your Life
While it sometimes feels as though our lives center around work, it cannot be our whole lives. We were not created to clock in at 9, leave at 5, and be beholden to every client email that comes in at all hours of the night.
Work plays a part in our lives. And especially if you’re an entrepreneur, it plays a large part in our lives. But it’s not what our lives are about.
At the end of your life, when you stand in front of whatever higher power you think controls this crazy universe, do you think they will hold a copy of your resume in their hand?
They’ll look at the kind of person you decided to be. Were you kind? Thoughtful? Passionate? Funny? Did you make other people feel empowered? Were you someone who inspired other people?
Even if there’s no grand orchestrator running this universe for us to see, what memories do you hope will flash before your eyes as you pass? Do you want to see the overtime you put in at work? Or do you want to feel the way your partner hugged you as you made dinner together? What about that time you laughed so hard your sides grew sore?
Your goal in life isn’t supposed to be about how well you climb the corporate ladder. It’s about how you interact with the world and how you make other people feel. And it’s about how you feel as an individual.
2. Work Is Temporary. Your Identity Has No End
There is no job that you hold for your entire life. You do not come out of the womb a software engineer.
But from the moment you’re born, you start to develop your identity. Parents will talk about how even moments after their child was born, they saw the baby look at the world with wide-eyed curiosity. They might see the child reaching out to be held, showing that even at the moment of birth, they craved connection with others.
You don’t emerge into the world and start filling out paperwork.
At any time, you could lose your job. Does that mean you lose your identity? Do you lose a part of who you are if you get laid off?
Nope. Because any parts of your identity tied to that job – creativity, leadership, intelligence – are traits you have regardless of what position you hold. Your job does not define your identity. It just gives you a place to showcase it.
3. At Work, You Are Replaceable
Mergers. Layoffs. Recessions. Pandemics. No matter how incredible you are at your job, you can always be fired. You can always be replaced. If you become ill or disabled, you could lose your ability to do your job. Your boss can always find someone who can do the job cheaper. If you keel over and die, a job opening will get posted on the corporate website.
At work, you are replaceable.
But not at home. You are the only person who can be you. To your friends, family, and loved ones, no one can replace what you mean and who you are to them. The people who truly love you will stick by your side no matter what. They don’t leave you at the first sign of trouble.
It’s important to think about your priorities in life. Do you always put work before family? While it’s important to be accountable and reliable for your work team, you can’t always drop everything just to help out at the office. Think back over the last year. Were there any times you had to back out of personal events? Was it due to work? Whether you’re missing your nephew’s dance recitals or date night with your partner, you need to make sure you aren’t consistently putting work first. Your loved ones deserve to feel like a priority, too.
Of course, you’ll have times where a work emergency has to come first. You just have to make sure that stays the exception, not the rule.
4. Your Job Is Not Your Identity: You’re So Much More
How sad would it be if all we had to do in life was work? No matter how much you love your job, you need to actively make space for being a full, complete person outside of the office.
You’re so much more than your job title. You aren’t simply an extension of the company you work for. If you feel like you define your identity by what you do for a living, it’s time to do some introspection.
What makes you feel alive? Think about what truly brings you genuine joy that doesn’t depend on someone else’s approval. Don’t think about the satisfaction you get from your boss telling you that you did a good job. You need to think about what lights a fire inside you that doesn’t rely on what other people think of you.
Your personal identity doesn’t even have to be about something you’re good at. If you love to sing more than anything else in the world, it doesn’t matter at all if you aren’t Ángela Peralta. It doesn’t even matter if you are downright dreadful. All that matters is that you feel fulfilled and joyful when you do it.
Define your identity based on what makes you “you.” Not what your boss thinks about you, or what other people think when you tell them your profession.Published in
Author, Artist, Photographer.
Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.
She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.
She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.