Do you wear many hats as a parent, spouse, and employee/employer? If so when asked the question, what do you do–a question asked at most social gatherings–what is your answer? Do you usually talk about your experience as a baseball coach for your son’s little league team, PTO/PTA volunteer for your daughter’s elementary class, or your career? We may wear many hats (or have multiple identities), but many of us strongly tie our identity to our occupations, accomplishments, and professional status. Thereby, defining ourselves by our work and how well we do it.
As a result, it is not a big leap to correlate a strong work identity as a forerunner to professional success. However, it can also trigger panic when faced with job loss. Our self esteem and sense of public esteem are often tightly woven into our work identity when we hold positions of authority, valued expertise, recognition, etc.
In his paper, Work, identity and health
, the author, Tom Fryers, purports that Western' societies are very work-oriented cultures—work giving man his dignity and social legitimacy--the principle source of identity, mediating the sense of being a valued person necessary for self-esteem.
Consequently when job loss rears its ugly head, you may find yourself exclaiming, "My work was important! My existence was not meaningless!” Then eventually questioning your value, “What do they think of me now?”
Kevin Helliker in his WSJ article, You Might as Well Face It: You're Addicted to Success
, quotes Paul Wenske, an award-winning journalist for 30 years, as he faced his lost work identity through a buyout, "Suddenly you're not the same person you used to be. You look in the mirror [and ask, ‘Who am I?’]”
Helliker suggests addressing our over-identification with work by valuing our contributions to family, friends, and community along with sharing more time with people who don’t view professional status as the end-all-be-all.
Changing the way you think—about yourself and your life—is essential to boosting self-esteem. Self esteem is all about valuing yourself. Valuing yourself begins with unearthing your true identity.
Uncovering your true identity is a journey of self-discovery with no real end point; an exciting adventure of discovering who you are. What do you really think and feel? What do you really want to do? Who you are is limited by the boundaries you set--and so is your personal value.
Work should not be viewed as the main source of life-satisfaction. Without work, life does not lose its meaning.
If you are facing job loss, work defines, but it is not your definition. You are more than the sum of a profession. Work as the source of our identity is fundamentally inadequate.
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. ~ Henry David Thoreau