DISCLAIMER: This post by no means propagates the idea of not having a job or having no aim in life whatsoever. If anything, it aims to take the pressure off your shoulders. At the same time, all the “you are more than your job” quotes might feel like not only should you be good at your job, but there is an added pressure that you should also be good at a million other things. This post tries to balance out this idea and make you feel better about wanting to take care of yourself and putting your other roles at the same level of your job role, if not above it. After all, you are more than your job, even if you have forgotten about it.
I had to give myself permission to let go of an identity that no longer fit. I see you are trying too. I am rooting for you.
This is where it all starts…
“Is this your real name?” (in an Asian country, nobody believes Despina is my real name)
“Nice name! So, what do you do, Despina?”
Let’s be honest, in the real world, people generally define us by what we do for a living. The follow-up to the question “what’s your name” has been “and, what do you do?” for a long time now. But why do we refer to our job as our identity? Is it a good thing? You are more than your job, but are you really?
Why do we make our job our identity?
For starters, we spend so much of our time at our jobs, the odds we end up connecting it with the core of our being are very high.
Another reason could also be that we humans define our uniqueness through our past, present and future. We choose stories that give us meaning. We seek external validation. While in childhood it is the school grades that validate our being, as an adult we choose personal achievements to control our narrative. Most of the achievements come from what we do and there is no escaping our job has a huge impact on our identity.
Our job gives us strength, voice, an anchor to fall back on in tough times. It makes us feel we are in control of at least one thing in our lives.
What happens when we consider our job our identity?
With all this cacophony around “you are what you do” and “your job defines you,” comes a lot of stress, anxiety and bitterness towards yourself. There comes a situation when your job owns you and your entire world revolves around it. You are probably fed up and troubled because besides you are doing more than your job description, at the same time, you’re not growing as an individual.
Losing a job, lack of appreciation and recognition at work, getting passed over for a promotion, and even being unable to execute the abundance of your ideas for whatever reasons — these are no longer work events; they somehow reflect our value and our sense of who we are.
What happens next is inevitable:
1. While your job gives you strength in terms of a title and a group to identify with, on the flip side, these become the quantifiers of your happiness.
2. While your job gives you a unique voice where none existed, it is painful when you solely depend on it to lend you meaning and a purpose larger than yourself.
3. Your job may seem an anchor to fall back on in the times of breakdown. It may make you feel it rescues you as you redefine your personal self and keeps you sane as you want to stay in control of at least one thing. But it cannot be a permanent lifeboat, it won’t get you past the long-term challenges. And you won’t always be in control of it, which again is painful.
You are more than your job. You are more than your job title. And you are here because you need a reminder on why that is how it should be.
Signs that you have already made your job your only identity
Jobs are sneaky. They have a way to infiltrate our lives with us not even realizing they are taking over. Even worse, jobs have infiltrated the lives of people you can relate to the most at work, so your job owning you may also seem just “normal.” Just like grades have.
Having that said, there’s a thin line between taking your job seriously and making it the only thing you are serious about. It’s one thing to work and another to let your work define you. If you don’t know the difference, let’s find it out together:
Do you feel any of the following lately?
1. You have a constant and unreasonable guilt
When you think you are only all about the job that you do, you have productivity guilt all the time. You feel taking any breaks would be a sin since completing your work is what is supposed to give you the same sensation as of a break. Surprisingly, that guilt is far from you when it comes to other activities. For instance, something as important as not having food doesn’t give you any kind of guilt and doesn’t bother you as much.
2. You are burnt out and overworked
Because of the guilt that you do not let go of, you face burnout. Since your job is the only source of satisfaction, if you do not get the appreciation or the resources to get your work done, you end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. You can’t say no to work because saying no would mean you are not useful. And feeling useless at your job bothers you. So, you say yes, pile up your plate with all kinds of to-dos, and end up burning yourself out, even when you clearly don’t want to.
3. You experience work anxiety
As a result of you piling up work and saying yes to almost every work request that comes along, you might also experience work anxiety. Regardless of whether you have a history with anxiety or not, overworking, trying to meet unrealistic deadlines set by others and yourself, and seeking validation based on your job, can give you work anxiety. Where you set the bar high and you are expected to perform and be at your best, it can be difficult to admit to vulnerabilities and cut yourself some slack.
“When I’ve had anxiety attacks at work, I’ve waited until I got physically ill to ask to go home. Loss of breath was there. Sometimes it was a migraine. I got anxiety peeing. I could not control my bladder. Besides I had sleepless nights, people were pushing me around, manipulating me to guilt and making me feel bad for saying no to overworking. I never gave a thought to my anxiety until I got physical symptoms. I guess, to me, it didn’t feel like mental symptoms were as significant or real as physical ones. Only physical symptoms could validate my troubles. And apparently would also make me feel less guilty and embarrassed about admitting that I needed some form of help.”
4. Your decisions revolve around your job
Whether you are going for that vacation or taking time off on your birthday depends on how much work you have on your plate. You feel that being absent from work would mean chaos. So, you do not only put yourself off but also pay less attention to other relationships in your life. You don’t really know what to do on the weekends either. You overwork and as a result, you feel that you deserve rest that will only boost you up to do even more work the next day. So, your life plans and decisions on whether you need to rest or visit around or even take up a new hobby depend on your job.
When our personal identity is driven by our job, we fail in other walks of life.
5. You only think about your future with your job
When you attach your worth to your job, that becomes the only thing you have a future plan for. Feedback, performance reviews, and appraisals are the events that can take a toll on your life. You are planning about these more than you would ever prefer to plan any other event of your life. And since you have attached your worth to your job, you look forward to them more than any other event in your life — sometimes even an event as big as your wedding may fail to hold that level of importance. If the most exciting thing that happens to you is to learn something new at your job or achieving a milestone at your job, do you even have a life?
How many times have you failed to commit to a hobby because of your job? You have, haven’t you?
What does taking your job too seriously do to your health?
When you give away this idea that you are all about work, your job and your job title, you have to face the consequences too. High-stress levels at work, and outside of it, thanks to you giving it so much importance, it affects your physical health too. With all that anxiety and activating the fight-or-flight response, you can even increase your susceptibility to falling sick.
Reasons you should never forget that you are more than your job
One way to understand how jobs work is to face the hard realities of workplaces.
Before attaching your worth to your job title, it’s good to understand the following hard realities:
1. You will never be enough
No matter how much you do, it’ll never be enough. One source of burnout is when people push you harder and don’t acknowledge the performance and effort you are already putting in. When you think that it’s normal to get pushed around, you make it easier for people to do it too. The point is when you are putting your 3000%, you cannot let people tell you otherwise. But at your job, this will be happening a lot of times, in fact, it’s never-ending, and you can’t let that control your being.
2. You will not always be given the resources you need
Jobs are not always designed to give you the resources you need to perform your duties. Not only lack of appreciation but also lack of resources can cause stress, though. However, if you feel guilty since the job is not done because with almost zero resources it was impossible to get it done, it’s time to realize that it’s not on you. So, stop stressing over it. Let the ship sail how it’s sailing.
3. You will be easily manipulated: every. single. time.
It’s so easy to manipulate people who are all about their job, with, of course, job stuff. Every workplace has all kinds of leaders. Most of them know how to manipulate you to get the job done at any cost. So, pleasing people should be the last thing that you do at your job if you want to not feel used. It’s a never-ending vicious cycle of comparison, feeling of being replaceable, waiting for appreciation, taking one for the family, and the list goes on and on.
4. Your work is not your family
It’s business. People may say something and do something else. (Yes, there is a word for such people that I refrain using.) Get over it already. It’s a folly to think your work is your family. I am not saying that the bonds you make at work are not strong. However, effort inequality, pay inequality, manipulation to get work done, etc., insist that those bonds are built on unstable premises in which not everyone is seen as equal.
Building false expectations of how a company equates itself with a family and should support its employees manipulates trust. While your family and job both can give you respect and a sense of belonging, a work team cannot give you the safety and belonging a family gives. Workplaces can be temporary. They are transactional by default. And to top it all, unlike families, workplaces can fire you and swap you out, deduct your salary, disapprove your leave application, and the list goes on and on. Are they really your family, after all?
A quotable quote by Game of Thrones (a series that I never watched as I did not succumb to the societal pressure) I stumbled upon scrolling Instagram goes like,
“People work together, when it suits them. They’re loyal, when it suits them. They love each other, when it suits them…”– Game of Thrones
5. Your job can always come to an end
Your job can always come to an end. You might retire. You might find a better opportunity. Maybe you’d like to change the track of your career altogether. You may also get fired. You may get replaced by someone. Are you ready to face that kind void in your life? Jobs can always come to an end for some reason or the other. And it’s important for you to reconcile with the loss of that state.
Besides we all know the hard truths, we don’t understand them. We only understand them when we get to face them. We end up feeling the void, after all.
I’ve had an epiphany too. Did I do something about it?
How did I come down to practice all the “You are more than your job” thing
It’s hard to practice what you preach. I haven’t gotten any success at untangling myself from my work identity. But I know with a slow and conscious effort I and anyone who is right now struggling with the same can detach themselves from it. And I think of it fondly.
I think when you are consumed with a life that fills you up, it adds to your sense of well-being and belonging in the world. It must really be a good feeling to have a sense of perspective greater than your job and a context for making choices that reduce the internal conflicts that it causes.
It’s a rare feeling that it is to not have your life consumed by work, and instead, you are consumed with a life that fills you up.
Let’s count on other things to practice the whole “you are more than your job” thing:
1. Your hobbies or say the ‘minor’ occupations
Most of us do not lack other passions. And some of us are pursuing their passion as their jobs. “I like to write and I have a writer’s job.” Regardless of which category you fall in, both of these people will find it difficult to draw a line. I feel I sculpt my image that is narrowly defined. Our jobs confine our identities. I am more than my job. And so is everyone, including you. Other than our jobs, I am sure everyone has many layers, nooks, and crannies to the self. Truth is, either everyone has other hobbies or they just know how to take everything including their job lightly.
Your hobbies are the skills you have that don’t often get to shine during your 9-5.
2. Your personal relationships
Here’s a shout-out to the way you show up for your friends and family — whether it’s through acts of service or just texts to check-in on them. There are many traditional roles that we have: I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, etc. I am also head of content at an organization, I am a blogger who wants to educate people about mental health, and take the stigma off it, and also a human being who is trying to lead a purposeful and meaningful life. The point is nobody can put a price on the ways people care for friends, family or society as a whole.
3. Your purpose
To normalize the words ‘anxiety’, ‘depression’, and ‘mental health’ is one thing that makes me click. That’s my purpose. No matter whether you feel you have found your purpose or not, your purpose or passion you have for a cause or a mission is a big part of your life and who you are. Your purpose may not always be reflected in your work but it is important.
4. Your compassion
How you can make your loved ones “feel” emotionally and mentally is way more important than what you can do for them materialistically and physically. I for one will always choose love, affection, and emotional support over gifts. You have to love yourself first and then love others too. You cannot measure love by a title or a promotion. Stay tough and keep the spirits high when you talk to yourself.
If these 4 reminders aren’t enough, consider reading the 25 life lessons I have learned by the age of 25, a little hint: Be Kind, Do Good, Care About Things, Leave the jobs that don’t value you (you get the point).
Over to you!
It’s time to create your own list of things that can help you shape your identity outside of your job. For starters, I asked myself these questions, hope they can help you too:
1. What makes your heart full?
2. Are you there for yourself?
3. How do you show up for people you love?
4. What is the feeling of success to you?
Before we take out time to fix things in our lives, we wait until a major crisis shakes us to our nerves.
I realized, a crisis is not required. It’s not even recommended. Some things we cannot change, so we accept them. We can change how we think, but we can’t change how others think. So you are left with one option to change the environment you want to thrive in — the one thing that you are 100 percent in control of.
Pick up an old hobby. Get a new one.
If you are married, be a better (better) half.
If you want to help, volunteer.
If you want to be a good friend, call an old friend.
If you are a parent, spend time with your kids.
Create a balance. Create a bio that includes all of you. Treasure it.
If you have lost touch with the rest of yourself, spend quiet time with it, find it, reclaim it and develop it.
Your job is part of your life, not your whole life.
Need I remind you, I had to give myself permission to let go of an identity that no longer fit. I see you are trying too. I am rooting for you,