Note: This is a guest post by Chrissy Scivicque of OfficeArrow.com
You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.
Tyler Durden, Fight Club
I consider myself lucky. I enjoy my job. No, I love my job. I look forward to seeing my co-workers. I happily work in the evenings and on weekends (though I don’t make a habit of it). I take pride in my work.But I learned long ago that my job, good or bad or anywhere in between, is NOT me. It’s just a job.
We, as a society, spend too much time talking about career. It’s usually one of the first questions you ask when you meet someone – “What do you do?” It’s how we connect with others. It’s how we identify ourselves. People use their careers to define who they are and place value on others, and this can have potentially devastating consequences.
I Work, Therefore I Am
I haven’t always been so lucky. At one point, I hated my job. I was a bank manager and literally, every time I said those words, I cringed. It never felt like me. It wasn’t torturous or anything. Some days, it was rather enjoyable. It just didn’t quite fit. I was always apologizing for my job. “It’s alright,” I would say. “It pays the bills.” And it did. But it didn’t inspire me. It didn’t spark my passion. And so I never felt complete.
While I’m happy to no longer be a bank manager, I can’t help but look back on those days and wonder, “What was really going on?” Why was I looking to my career to fulfill me? Maybe it had something to do with those 14 hour workdays. Or maybe it was just the fact that I, like everyone else I knew, had come to believe that career was an extension of self. It wasn’t just a paycheck. It wasn’t enough to just enjoy your work. You had to love it, live for it. Your career was your identity. And so, being a bank manager meant I was a boring, stuffy, conservative type. For a girl who once had hopes of dancing on Broadway, it wasn’t exactly a dream come true.
But since I had chosen this path, I was doing my best to make it work, forcing the square peg in the round hole. 14 hour workdays were my way of saying, “See world?? I’m passionate!! Look how hard I work! No, really! This is fulfilling. I live for this stuff!” And the harder I tried, the emptier I felt.
I Work, Therefore I Eat
After I quit my job at the bank, I took a big step back and re-evaluated my life. I wanted to find out who I was and who I wanted to be. And by extension, I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my career. It was only after some serious soul searching that I finally began to question this emphasis on career. I started to realize that, in my effort to define myself through career, I had completely neglected every other aspect of my life. I had a very limited social life, I had distanced myself from my family, I had no hobbies, no interests to speak of. It’s not surprising that I was using my career to define myself – it was all I had!
So I finally let go of this silly notion that my career had to be my identity. I began building my true identity – making friends, taking classes, exploring opportunities and seeking new challenges. I felt proud of who I was for the first time in my life. At that point, the world became my oyster. I could accept any job that sounded interesting and paid the bills. It no longer mattered what my title was. I vowed to never again be ashamed of my job because, whether I was cleaning toilets at the mall or dancing on Broadway, my career would never again define my existence.
I Work, Therefore I Play
What does your career mean to you? No matter how you feel about your job, whether you love it or hate it, be cautious of making it the center of your universe. You don’t have to find fulfillment from work. It’s nice when you do. But it’s rare. Don’t try to force the issue by overworking yourself and neglecting the things that can truly fulfill you.
It’s perfectly okay to find passion and fulfillment in other areas of your life. When people ask you what you do, you don’t always have to recite your resume. You can tell them about your hobbies or your family. You can tell them that you’re an avid bicyclist who practices Buddhist meditation. And on the side, you also work for a CPA firm.
This kind of thinking is a dramatic shift for many people. Ask anyone to describe themselves and 9 times out of 10, they’ll start with their job title. It’s not a bad thing, but in my opinion, it’s misplaced emphasis. If you’re not one of the lucky ones who finds true and lasting fulfillment through your work, you can end up feeling very dissatisfied and searching endlessly for that “perfect career.” And even if your job does provide this kind of joy, what happens when circumstances change? Perhaps technology will make your career irrelevant next year. Hello identity crisis!
I suggest that we change our perceptions of career. I say, let’s recognize that work is work – it’s meant to pay the bills and feed our families. If it does more, recognize that – for the moment – you’re one of the lucky few. But focus on building your identity and finding your passion outside of the workplace. Stop expecting to find everything in one place. Isn’t it enough that your career provides means for survival? If it does that, it’s fulfilling its purpose. If you want it to define you, inspire you, and fulfill your passion in life, you may be asking for too much.
Chrissy Scivicque is an avid reader who loves writing, dancing and yoga. She’s also the Senior Content Manager at OfficeArrow.com, an online community for office professionals by office professionals. You can follow her journey there and read her articles on productivity, work-life balance and that illusive thing called job satisfaction.
This article is part of September 2008 theme: Fulfilling Career
Photo by CarbonNYC