We live in a society that puts a big emphasis on what “we do.” It is literally one of the first questions we ask someone when we meet them.
“So, what do you do?”
In the last few years I’ve struggled to answer that question, not only for people who ask but for myself.
Almost two years ago, I got laid off. It was a shock to say the least. I had put over two years into that position, close to 5 years in that field and I had even started a master’s program in order to further my career. But after being laid off, I felt like a failure. I was embarrassed, disheartened and a little bit angry.
After a lot of wine, greasy comfort food, Netflix and self-reflection, I realized the reason I felt so angry was because I felt like I had wasted the last few years of my life. During those moments of self-reflection, I came to terms with the fact that I hadn’t been happy in that position. I was overworked and underpaid (aren’t we all?), but I was also just going through the motions. I was following a path I thought I should given my college degree and previous experience.
My next immediate goal was…to be able to pay rent. I worked a myriad of jobs to make that happen. I was a nanny, I worked retail, I did temp work, and I worked at a bar. When you work in a city like Washington DC, where networking is like an Olympic sport, telling someone at happy hour that I was “just” a nanny or retail associate, got the same reaction as if I had just stripped down naked in front of them.
But I realized that I enjoyed working these jobs; they paid the bills, I got to meet so many interesting people, I had a more flexible schedule and I gained a lot of diverse experience I wouldn’t have otherwise. I also had the spare time to do things I really loved like writing and photography.
For me, this realization relieved that huge pressure I think a lot of us carry; the one that says we should be working our ‘dream job’ or to make sure that every job we do helps us ‘climb that career ladder.’
Can any of you relate to this? Well if you can, remember that your self-respect and self-worth are much more important than a job title. Here’s why:
We all define success differently
One person’s definition of success can vary greatly from another’s. Believe me, that is a good thing. We are all different people, have different life experiences and we value different things. Measuring yourself against someone else’s journey can only lead to heartache. True success is looking deep down inside and figuring out what you love and pursuing it. If this love happens to be your job, great! But if it is making the people in your life happy, or helping others, or creating something beautiful, those are all great too, and are worthy of pursuit!
You are more than what you do
Currently, I work at a retail store and a write freelance. Those are things I do, but they are not who I am. I also identify as someone who loves to bake for her friends, who will stay up all night to read a good book, who loves to travel (the more ‘unbeaten path’ the better) and who loves to tell a good (hopefully funny) story. I am also a sister, a daughter, and a wife. These things define me more than any job ever could.
You know this is all temporary, right?
I huge chunk of my friends have been laid off or are in perpetual fear that layoffs are coming. Jobs are much more temporary than they used to be. It isn’t as common to stay in the same position or at the same company for most of your career anymore. For these reasons, it can be dangerous to tie your identity to what you do, because what you do can change in the blink of an eye; if it does, what will you have then? Life is always throwing curveballs and other things will likely leave an impression on your life more than your job.
Why do you think we let our careers define us? Besides your job, what defines you as an individual? Let us know in the comments below.