Signs Your Career Is Your Identity (And How To Fix That)

August 8, 2019  |  
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career identity crisis

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They say if you’re going to be successful in the pursuit of your dreams, you really have to live and breathe those dreams. You have to immerse yourself in the world that involves pursuing your goals—spending time constantly with like-minded individuals, consuming information 24/7, and pretty much always working. The trouble with that is that when someone does become successful in their goals, they can have been so caught up in that work for so long—so terrified of thinking about anything else for fear of being distracted—that they forget who they are at their core. We’re not our jobs. When you’re on your deathbed, you won’t wish that you’d worked more. Many, many hospice nurses have reported that the top thing people regret while dying is not having spent more time with loved ones. If this could ring true for you, maybe it’s time to face the fact that your job may be your whole life—your identity even—and how to fix that.


You get depressed on vacation

Even though you look forward to vacation, once it begins, you get…sad. You feel depressed. You even find yourself uncomfortable with your own thoughts—your brain feels like a scary place. That’s because you don’t know who you are when you aren’t working so you’re re-meeting yourself, from scratch, and that’s terrifying.


You wind up working on vacation

You usually just wind up finding a business center and working on vacation. Or you look up professional contacts to network with in the area. And when you start doing this, you have a sensation of being saved come over you—a phew moment. As if something very bad was going to happen if you didn’t get back to work soon.


You have no hobbies

When people ask you what you like to do for fun, you fumble for answers. You don’t like this question. You think it’s weird people even ask it. Working towards goals and achieving them gives you perhaps what people would describe as a sense of fun. But that’s not a good answer. Something like “Wine and paint classes” is an appropriate answer.


You have nothing else to talk about

You really have nothing else to talk about. When people ask if anything new and exciting has been happening, all of your answers revolve around work. Not travel. Not relationships. Not cultural experiences. You see people grow tired of talking to you because you don’t really give them an entrance into the conversation. You’re talking at them.


You can’t relate to most people

Building on that last issue, you only relate to people who work in your industry. When people talk about things like going to the movies, layovers at airports, dog park etiquette, or first dates, you have nothing to contribute to the conversation. You feel very ostracized when people just talk about regular, every day things.


You can’t even think about losing your job

You refuse to entertain any thoughts about a life without your job. The idea makes you panic. It makes you feel like the wind has been knocked out of you. You become dizzy. You see just a big, black hole in your mind. That’s not really good…a lot of people feel free and uplifted at the idea of not working anymore.


You feel vulnerable talking about much else

You feel very vulnerable talking about anything else. Work is where you feel in control. When you discuss your career, you’re the expert. There are right answers and wrong answers. That’s just not the case with other topics like relationships or politics.


Know that this isn’t sustainable

Okay so, it’s time to do something about this. First thing is first: you have to understand that this isn’t sustainable. It just isn’t. Who knows when or why but one day you won’t have this job. And, furthermore, while you’re career-obsessed, you aren’t building yourself a life that you could enjoy if this job went away. You’re leaving yourself with nothing, when this job goes away.


Think of the apocalypse

This is a good exercise to think about who you are, at your core, without your job. If the apocalypse happened tomorrow, your job would be gone. All jobs would be gone. What traits would you have to contribute to your group for survival? Who would you be? What personality traits would remain true about you? Really think about that. You can’t say “I’m good at spreadsheets.” There would be no spreadsheets. Are you…good with people? Are you compassionate? Are you brave? A leader? That’s your essence.


Fine, think of retirement

If the apocalypse thought exercise is too bizarre, just think of retirement. You plan on retiring one day, don’t you? So, what will you do then? How will you pass the time? With whom will you pass the time? That should be a time you get to do what you love and be with loved ones. Do you have anything you love besides work? Have you nurtured relationships with loved ones? If you haven’t, retirement will be bleak.


Consider unconditional love

When it comes to relationships, don’t you want someone to love you for who you are, with or without your career? Life is long and full of changes. Wouldn’t it feel good to know that the traits someone loved about you are permanent, unchanging, and cannot be touched by outside factors like money and success? That’s what it means to have unconditional love. But you can’t find that love until you learn what those qualities are in you that are permanent and unwavering.


Meditate on your true wants

I know I recommend meditation a lot but it just has that all-healing power. It even affects how you approach your career. It gives you a more holistic and comprehensive look at what you want out of your career—why you love what you do. And when you see that, you can see there are a lot of other ways to do that outside of your work, like through hobbies and relationships.


Real life can better your work

Also remember that all work and no play makes you, well, just behind the competition. Real life experiences inspire ideas that pertain to our careers. If you don’t stop to have a life—to have relationships, to go to concerts, to travel—your thoughts will become one-note, repetitive, and uninspired. That’s not good for your work.


Make friends outside of work

Force yourself to befriend people who do not work in your industry. You won’t have that shelter there of just discussing work, and that’s a good thing. If you feel you could hit it off with somebody who does something totally different than you, pursue that friendship. It will force you to explore other facets of yourself, so that you can relate to this person.



Doing volunteer work puts you in touch with some very humble, selfless individuals who know nothing about attaching their egos or identities to their careers. They just work to serve others. You may actually start to feel quite vain for investing so much of your identity into a money-related pursuit.

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