You are so much more than your job

When people ask you who you are what do you tell them? Usually, I start with my name and then I say, “I’m a writer.” While that’s true, it’s not really who I am as much as what I do. In most cases, it leads to a series of questions I don’t want to answer at a bar, or a party, or family gathering, or ever really. “What do you write?” “Oh, I get that. I’m a poet!” “Are you planning to write a book?” A lot of people I know answer that question the same way. Probably because we’re conditioned to believe that our jobs are a key part of our identity when really, they’re only a small part of who we are.

So many people believe that the jobs they do to pay their bills define them. You’re a writer, or a waiter, or a doctor, or lawyer, a teacher, a designer, or something else. Although we consider what we ​do​ who we are, it’s rarely what we do for fun that we list when someone asks who we are or what makes us tick. Maybe you paint in your spare time or take photographs. Maybe you knit or make pottery. Maybe you garden or sew. People don’t often find those things out about us until some time down the line.

A lot of us grew up being asked what we wanted to be when we grew up and being told what the “ideal job” was.

If you have one or both of those things, we’ve made it. Having an interesting or important-sounding job means that we too must be interesting and important and therefore shape our lives around that thing.

You know what they say about all work and no play though. Focusing so heavily on what you do is a fast track to burnout. You have to draw a line between your work and your life. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself stressed, overwhelmed, and unhappy. What’s more, when work’s gone (which is bound to happen to you at least once in your life), you won’t know who you are or what to do with yourself. I lost my job for the first time in 2018. It was the most brutal pain I’ve ever experienced. Who was I if not a writer? Well, I had nothing but time to figure that out.

In the months that followed, between looking for jobs, I learned a lot about myself. I baked, I cooked, I got really into skincare, I watched a lot of TV I’d been meaning to watch, and worked through a pile of books that were collecting dust. I ran, went for walks, spent time with friends. In the end, I learned that all those things—things that make me happy—define me so much more than any job title ever could. The same is true for all of us. The things that should be defining us are the things we love, not the ways we pay the bills.

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to have the perfect job and don’t let your career define you. Be who you are and do what you love outside of work. That’s what the people who matter most love about you. Forget about the rest.


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