Upon meeting new people, we’re often faced with one unavoidable question: “What do you do?”. For some, answering this question is a moment of pride and satisfaction. But for others, this may not signal the same reaction. Overall, how you answer this question can reveal a lot about your relationship with your career and whether you experience identity dependence in the workplace.
It is common for one’s identity to blur with one’s career, causing them to lose a stable sense of themselves. One’s values become that of the company they work for. This can be great if someone loves what they do, but this becomes most dangerous when they switch career fields or leave a company; they will be left without the professional identity you are dependent on in order to feel like their complete self.
Why is it important to have a stable sense of self?
When you engage with one activity for most of your waking hours, it becomes a part of you. If you’re using screens for most of your day, you might be vulnerable or feel unproductive when you are without your phone or laptop. It has become a part of you.
Once you have a stable sense of self, you won’t experience burnout. You will be confident in establishing boundaries in social relationships and work relationships. Having a stable sense of self doesn’t mean you can say three to five words about yourself that you identify with.
Psychology Today defines identity as that which “encompasses the memories, experiences, relationships, and values that create one’s sense of self. This amalgamation creates a steady sense of who one is over time, even as new facets are developed and incorporated into one’s identity.”
Your identity is ever-changing, but you always know who you are best.
How can you recognize these patterns of career-identity dependency?
Ask yourself: when you’re outside of office hours, how much time do you spend thinking of work? If you’re usually thinking about work and you’re also feeling overwhelmed with stress but you can’t exactly place it, then you might want to separate your work identity from your real identity.
Do you have hobbies that don’t relate to your job? If your job involves a lot of screen time, you should incorporate hobbies that allow you to get away from screens, whether that’s reading or playing a sport. Although it is important to try new hobbies, don’t force an activity if you’re not interested in it! Think about how you can interact with various aspects of your personality that guide you away from your work.
Your many identities come with many different responsibilities. Work identity, especially, can become the most overwhelming and informs many of your other identities. While this is not inherently good or bad, relying on your work identity leaves you vulnerable to identity crisis and burn-out. Identifying your stressors and claiming time for yourself outside of work will bring you back to the self.
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