While I was in the throes of burnout I constantly heard, “what you do doesn’t define who you are”. It’s difficult to understand the concept of separating who you are from what you do. I’ll be honest, I understand that logically, but still have issues reconciling that with my actual feelings. Between impostor syndrome and being a workaholic, it was hard to pinpoint my identity. If you’re reading this, you may be going through that same struggle.
The Problems with Not Separating Who You are From What You Do
According to Harvard Business Review, once you become engrossed in work, setbacks can negatively affect your self worth. It’s critical to remind yourself that criticism of your work is not criticism of you personally, which is easier said than done. By focusing yourself in the center of workplace stress, you weaken your judgement, and it worsens when your self worth is tied into what you do. The stress along with a myriad of factors can [ultimately lead to burnout].
In addition to burnout, as your role(s) changes, your relationship with coworkers and managers may also change. Timothy O’Brien states that “people relate to you through the role you play in their lives.” This means that if you get promoted for example, and your peers are not, it may be harder for them to relate as the dynamic has now changed especially if you’ve become their manager. In a way it can negatively reinforce the idea that you are what you do, so it’s vital that you reconcile that idea in your mind with your actual character traits.
You may wonder why this is even important or something you should start thinking about. Well, having an understanding of who you are could be the motivating factor to continue on your current career path or find a new one. Defining who you are inarguably forces you to determine your why, and that my dear friends will be your North Star throughout your career.
The first step in understanding who you are is defining your personal values. Determine what things and characteristics are more important to you than work, i.e. family, generosity, mental stability, physical health. Remind yourself of the adjectives you’d like others to use when they describe you. Do people think you’re funny or personable and why do you want to be known that way?
Second, in order to create or rediscover your identity you have to figure out what you like. What makes you tick? Do you have any hobbies outside of work and if not, did you have any before enveloping yourself in your career? If you don’t, and you have disposable income, start spending time trying new things outside of work. If you’re active maybe you’d like to try a new sport; combat sports (wink, wink), kayaking, running, etc. If you enjoy reading, you could find new genres or start writing book reviews. If you’re completely unsure, but know you like to help people, start volunteering with different communities. You’ll find your thing once you start putting yourself out there.
Finally, use some of the things you learned about yourself to guide your perspective. If you realized you enjoy monotonous tasks or explaining various topics, you may consider yourself patient. If you take pride in your ability to explain complex topics, you might enjoy helping people. Through lenses like these, you start to reframe the way you view yourself. Once you start to think of yourself in terms of characteristics, morals, and passions, you move beyond being *insert professional title here*. Grasshopper, this is when you’ll start separating who you are from what you do.
You’re a Work In Progress
Give yourself some grace when it comes to separating your personal feelings from work AND finding yourself. When you’re young, it’s especially difficult to navigate your personal identity if you’re spending countless hours at work. If you’re a recovering perfectionist like me, you may find it hard to put yourself out there or take up new hobbies if you’re not very good at them. Let me encourage you to stay the course!
Although this blog isn’t huge by any means, I feel so fulfilled maintaining it consistently now. When I look back at past entries I see so much progress in my writing and SEO strategies. It’s crazy to think how much you can learn in just one year! I’ve seen growth in the blog’s views and followers that lets me know I made a good decision in picking it back up and taking it seriously. I give myself breaks when I miss a publishing deadline I set, but I also make sure it doesn’t become a pattern. Because of this blog, I identify as someone who writes in addition to someone who helps people with their finances.
If you’re currently working on separating who you are from what you do, let me know how you’re doing in the comments. What are the biggest struggles you’ve encountered in doing so? Do you feel relieved, more stressed, or neutral on discovering other ways to identify yourself?