Why We Must Stop Allowing Our Career to Define Our Identity


I have a confession to make: I used to envy the people who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up. You know, the ones who said from age seven that they wanted to be a doctor, nurse, teacher, firefighter, etc., and then they grew up to be those exact professionals.

Why the envy? Well, I’m guessing it’s because my “calling” per se has never been as clear-cut.

See, if two decades ago you were to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, chances are the words “astronaut” or “actress” would have instantly spilled from my mouth. Fast forward ten years and I would have given you a completely different answer: a lawyer.

While this desire landed me an internship on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., somewhere along the road of college and graduation, I switched gears — again and ended up moving to New York City once I entered the “real world” to pursue a short-lived career in fashion. And yet, here I am, two years later on the west coast, diving head-first into the deep waters of freelance writing.

Simply put: I  have yet to figure out what I want to “do” with my life.

Why We Must Stop Allowing Our Career to Define Our Identity – Wit & Delight

But after years of carrying around the invisible burden to just pick a path and stick with it — because let’s face it, that’s what society tells us to do — I have finally realized two things: 1) This huge question mark hovering over my career is totally OK because I AM NOT MY JOB. Aka, my self-worth should never be associated with my job title. (Neither should yours!) And 2) Our society desperately needs to undergo a major mindset transformation.

There’s no denying “being busy” has become somewhat of a status symbol here in the American culture. And unfortunately, so has job titles. Thanks to decades of placing such emphasis on these labels, we, as individuals, have started to slip down the dangerous slope of defining who we are by what we do from 9 to 5. Our work becomes much more than a job — it quickly morphs into our identity.

Think about it: when you first meet someone, chances are after finding out what his or her name is, you then ask what they do for a living, right? None of us mean any harm by this question, it’s just typically how new conversation flows.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I am all for being work-focused, as this keeps us motivated to do our best and pursue new goals and challenges. (Hello, girl power!) The problem, though, is that when we define ourselves by our jobs and titles, we slowly start to lose touch with our sense of self and ultimately put ourselves in emotional jeopardy.

I should know, as I was on the fast track of doing this to myself.

Thankfully, the lightbulb went off and I was able to recognize the fact that self-love is worth so much more value than the numbers on a paycheck or the title under an email signature. And suddenly — OK, more like after a lot of self-reflection — the pressures of immediately finding my “dream job” subsided, along with the thoughts of self-doubt that had once upon a time crept inside my head.

Why We Must Stop Allowing Our Career to Define Our Identity – Wit & Delight

Once I began looking within to cultivate my own unique view of the world, I was essentially able to redefine the meaning of success. And over time, I finally became ready to veer off the path society had carved for me and start living my own life, according to my own terms.

So, if you, too, are feeling stuck in this career/identity trap, remember that your job is what you do, not who you are. Which is why I encourage you to take some time and ask yourself the following:

  • Who are you? (Not what you do for a living, but who are you as a person? What are your interests? What do you value? What do you love, what do you not love, etc.?)
  • Furthermore, how do you want to spend your days here on earth? What differences do you want to make?

As soon as you go through this self-examination process and understand your own personal answers, I guarantee you’ll start to feel a new sense of rejuvenation seeping in. Because when you think about it, the last thing you’ll be pondering on your deathbed is whether or not you should have spent more time at the office. 

So, isn’t it time to start living, outside of work?

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Kathryn McLamb is a writer and photographer on a mission to inspire others to celebrate the everyday. She runs her blog  Pineapple Street, and when she’s not plotting her next travel adventure, you can find her wandering the colorful city streets of San Francisco.

 

  • This is a post I can completely relate to. I’ve always felt like a fish out of the water because I couldn’t name my “dream job” and that always made feel like I was somewhat failing. But I soon realized that, like in all aspects of life, nothing is cookie-cutter. Thank you for this.

    • I agree with you, Charmaine. I think it’s all in your head, too! There have been so many days where I’ve had to press mute on that inner critic (so much easier said than done, I know!) But hang in there and keep doing you! As always, thank you for your comment 🙂

  • Completely agree with you. I used to wonder how do these people seem so put together, and know exactly what they want in life. When I was in high school, I used to think that by the time I’m 24 I would have figured life out. Boy, did I was wrong. My mom always tells me that each person has a different timeline, and just because we’re not on the same speed doesn’t mean that our live is wrong. great post!

    • I absolutely love your mom’s advice, and completely agree! While I by no means have “it” figured out, I always try to remind myself to sometime just be. Be present; be open; and be ready for what’s next! Have a lovely day and thanks for reading!

  • I think what you are saying is more like redefining what you view as success, and I do think it is important to stick to your own principles of success as opposed to conventional “dream jobs”. And, like you, I have changed jobs and industries several times within a decade, gone back to grad school, etc., but whatever I am professionally pursuing at the moment is not 100% of my life, but definitely a big part of my life. And to those who DO achieve their dream jobs and whose work consumes pretty much all their life, I say kudos to them if they love what they’re doing. Just do whatever suits you.

  • Needed this today. I too have been “called” to be an actress, a lawyer (if only by my mother), an architect, a fashion buyer, and now a big fat question mark. As I’m looking at new jobs and companies, I am trying to prioritize my values for once. I hope that focus leads me to the best opportunity and allows me time and space to keep growing and connecting with the people I love.

  • Such a great post! Only after years and years I start realizing what I want to do in life and how to get there, but even right now now and then the doubts creep in and I wonder if I am not making a mistake. But at the end of the day, this is my way, I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way 🙂

  • I usually never comment on posts but this was so perfectly timed to what I’m experiencing right now that I had to express my appreciation. Thank you! If there’s any chance you could follow up with a post on tips for emotionally disengaging from work (without losing professional commitment) that would be ideal!!

  • Gosh, this article speaks to me in so many ways! I’m about to turn 40 in December and I’m so unhappy running this corporate rat race. I work at an engineering firm and for the last 3 years I’ve been miserable and wanted to pursue my own business. During this time, I’ve done a lot of self introspection. I realized that I love home decor and fashion, and have decided to start a second career on the side with an online business. My day job pays great but it takes time away from my toddler twins. I want to be in a position where I get to dictate my schedule and spend more time with family and doing things I love! I don’t have it all figured out but I’m chiseling away everyday at making this dream a reality!

    decorbydemi.com

  • this is a fantastic post and i couldnt agree with the sentiment anymore- thanks for writing this and getting the convo going!