There’s a cute cereal commercial on television where women select their jeans by a character trait rather than size. Why can’t we all do the same with our identity— or rather, “who we are” versus what we do and where we do it? One of the biggest challenges people face is living up to others expectations and career identity is just one of the ways that we feel pressure to conform. Are you a banker or “just” a stay at home mom? Are you working in retail or perhaps at a prestigious law firm? If you’re worried about your career identity, maybe it’s time to reflect on what you contribute rather than where.
So when did we start identifying ourselves with our jobs? Perhaps it was during in the post-war era or when the all power-focused 80’s did a number on our career egos Regardless of when it happened, it’s a shame that for some identity is tied to only to their careers. Yes, it’s important to be engaged in your career and proud of your work but it should never define you. A client of mine recently told me that by living his dream he’d be wasting his education. The challenge is that he doesn’t want to do what he was trained to do anymore, but if he’s energized and dedicated to a new career path, why should he feel guilty about it? This is a mind trap that can be amplified by family, friends and society’s expectations. If we feel called to make a difference, pursue a purpose or feel happy in our careers then why do we let peer pressure steer us away from what matters most?
When we are truly happy and engaged in our careers then we are at our best self. Self-sabotage is the worst thing that we can do because oftentimes we are on a path that was predestined but we won’t reach our ultimate career bliss until we take the first step. Yes, I realize that I’m getting a little metaphysical here, but my point is this: We are happiest when we’re at our best. We are more productive, more collaborative and with a purpose. In other words, If you went to medical school but choose to be a ballerina, then let the applause start now. Whatever your career is be proud of it and know that it supports your identity; but it doesn’t replace it. Trying to make it “who you are” builds stress and decreases engagement. You simply can’t be at your best if you’re worried about your career identity.