Last year, I had the honor of guest posting with one of my favorite sites, Tentblogger (now john.do). The topic was personal satisfaction outside of your work, and I thought I had a message people needed to hear.
Your work cannot define you
Hold the arguments please, and let me give some additional perspective.
In today’s world, people will likely change jobs and even entire shifts in careers during their working life. Attaching your personal identity to a type of work, and especially a specific company, is a recipe for frustration. In an era where job switching is so prevalant, please don’t make the mistake I did and tie up your sense of personal worth in a job.
In the immortal words of Tyler Durden:
You’re not your job, you’re not your car, you’re not the contents of your wallet.
Fight Club offers more perspective on materialism:
Let’s pull the lens out further. I had too much of myself wrapped up in my last job. The work was very meaningful and fulfilling, but I placed too much of my identity on being influential, important, and respected there. I was proud of the work, but also egotistical about it. I told myself I had made the choice to serve, and not sold out to the man. The root evidence of pride was still there. All the while, I said I was not defined by my work.
Fast forward, and I realize how much I was lying to myself. Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being influential, relied upon, and doing meaningful work. The point is that it was still a source of unhealthy pride for me. I’m no longer at the same job, and living the in-between of part-time work, starting a business, and figuring out the next chapter of life.
This in-between stage is teaching me how to stay humble, do the task you’ve been given, and hustle. I’m learning again how to place my true identity outside of my work. I can wear many hats in how I make money because they’re just a temporary role for who I really am.
One particular line from the article has resonated with me, because I realized I didn’t believe it.
I would find other ways to contribute, help others, and support my family.
When I wrote these words, I was thinking about doing something equally important, fun, or cool to talk about. Brewmaster, for example. Sure I’m in-between jobs, but I get to be around beer all day! Of course while I’m doing working the taps I would be making lots of internet money, leaving me free of the tension of bills. Of course I’m enough, because I’m not being challenged to be anything else.
But where I find myself is at a job where I don’t feel particularly fulfilled, bleeding our savings, not making money online, and feeling stuck on my personal path. Am I enough? I’m reflecting on the question.
So what does this mean for all of us? I’ve realized this is a lesson I’m going to have to learn and revisit throughout life. I’ll probably get tied up in my work again, it’s a significant temptation for men especially. We measure ourselves based on output, both financially and the influence we have. Regardless of gender, extracting ourselves from outward metrics and being at peace with who we are regardless of the work we’re doing is a lifelong journey.
Ask yourself a few questions today, and reflect on the answers.
1. What personal identity am I placing in my work?
2. How would I feel if I wasn’t working here? What else would I do? And what if Plan B (C, D, etc) didn’t work out? Am I still enough then?
3. What personal traits am I proud of and are valued regardless of the work I’m doing?
I’m asking myself these questions on a regular basis, and realizing the answers help stave off feelings of shame, a lack of productivity, and personal meaning. When we know that our identity isn’t residing at the office or the amount of money we bring in, we’re opened up to doing more meaningful work, and having better relationships outside of the office.
If you have a story of living in-between jobs and chapters in life, please share it! I personally would love to hear your words. The comments are yours, or you can email me directly; matt @ mattragland.com
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