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
Not that there’s anything wrong with taking pride in your work and taking care to do a good job. It is still a very important part of life, so don’t move it too far down the hierarchy of important things. I’m a wife and mom. My family is important to me, but so is keeping a roof over their heads, clothes on their bods and food in their tummies, so it’s important that I care enough about my job to do it well. My job IS the practical center of my universe. My family is the emotional center of my universe.
Good points Chrissy. I think that another aspect of this is all the bloggers and other part time online entrepreneurs. The day job is a means to an end, a way to keep food on the table and keep paying the mortgage while they follow their passions in the evening.
I also think part of it may have to do with having a certain level of experience. Very broadly speaking, when you first start work you’ll take any job you can get, and you don’t really know how to tell a good job from a bad job. It’s only after living with it for a few years and trying to balance a life with a job that’s got hours that are too long, is too draining, or just not fulfilling that we can step back and figure out what we really want.
You speak the truth — your job doesn’t have to be your identity at all. I personally know some people who’s really able to separate jobs and identity. Jobs are just means to provide for their needs. I know a very decent man who makes a living managing a factory producing tanks. If he has moral conflicts about what he’s doing, he doesn’t show it.
That said, if it was me, I don’t think I can tolerate working in a factory that produces tanks. My goal is to create a world where we don’t need tanks, so I would not do very well producing them, spending so much of my life doing it. (The job pays VERY well)
I’ve come to the conclusion that views about one’s job depends greatly on a person’s personality type. I am a feeling/intuitive person who care very much about what I am doing. I also cannot not letting what I spend so much time doing affect the sense of who I am. What I’m saying is not that I have superior moral code or anything. More thinking/logic oriented people have great morals/ethics but are simply more detached from their feelings. I’m not one of them so I can’t speak on their behalf, but it looks like they simply don’t feel that much. From my point of view, I’m tempted to say it’s easier to navigate life for them, because they’re not bothered by their feelings — they are able to compartmentalize various portions of their lives better, and make decisions based simply on their logical thinking. That seems simpler to me than trying to please murky, confusing demands of our feelings.
Anyway, I think having a job that sucks less is better than having a job you hate, and having a job you’re content with is better than not having a job and starving. We’re all constantly trying to reach for a better place, which is natural. But some of us can stop at that contentment and simply let other aspects of our life grow. Other ones are less cut and dry and simply unable to detach ourselves from what we do. It’s not they’re inmature, it’s just that they are different.
So — to such people, finding a fulfilling career becomes a must, not a choice. You don’t have to defend the fact that you can be perfectly happy even without fulfilling career. Neither do we have to defend that fact that some of us do need a fulfilling career.
I completely agree. Our jobs begin to define who we are so much that we can’t actually enjoy our time away from them. I feel like if I’m not working or completing some to-do’s that I’m wasting time. Work would probably not be so bad if we actually enjoyed our downtime.
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Its simply amazing…Its just what I have been thinking of for long, People think career is everything… when the bottom line is its just filling ur pockets. No doubt if u are enjoying ur job, have a great Cv to boast of, but then its just a part of you. career is indeed significant area, but its still not ur whole self. Its stupidity to define yourself by 8-10 hrs of workplace. Ur a vice president,so what.. there are millions out there…lets remember even if one comes first in the rat race, You are still a RAT.
Balance things and stop giving undue importance to career over people and relationships..tomorrow when you leave your company, you might get a great farewell, but then thats it, you come back after sometime, you no longer belong there. People will forget you and move on..
[…] My Defense of Unfulfilling Careers by Chrissy Scivicque from Office Arrow […]
That was an awesome opening quote.
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