Are you just a job?: the relationship between career and identity

If posed the question “who are you?” what would be your response? We often reply by saying

“I am a teacher.”
“I am an engineer.’
“I am a doctor.”
“I am a police officer.”

If you lost that job tomorrow and the same question is asked, how would you respond?

It is customary for us to be asked “what do you do?” within minutes of a new encounter. Typically, we spend more time consumed with work, commuting to work or thinking about work than any other activity. Therefore, it is quite natural to equate our job title with our identity.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines identity as

: who someone is : the name of a person : the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others

Identity is a multifaceted concept. Factors such as gender, age, social status, ethnicity etc. help to construct our identity and the way we interpret our experiences. However, it can become problematic when our job title becomes the main component of our identity.

For young professionals and university graduates in Trinidad and Tobago our career dynamic may be characterised by short-term contracts and frequent job changes. Periods of unemployment can result in depression and desperation if a job title is the primary source of identity and self-worth.

It is important to recognise that we are defined by who we are and not what we do. We must value ourselves as individuals with something unique to offer. We sometimes yearn for external validation that is derived from success at the workplace. However, our self-image should not be based primarily on career performance metrics.

For some reason we have been conditioned to conceptualise life as a competition. People are hardly acknowledged on the merit of their character. It’s all about having the highest GPA, the best job or the most money.

Remember, even if you are in between jobs, searching for a new career path, exploring entrepreneurship or just working to pay the bills, it is who you are that matters the most…because you are YOU.

Take away the degrees, the job titles, the work accomplishments and really think about the answer to the question: who are you?

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