By the time you were probably in your third grade, you were asked the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
In our society, job titles have come to define who a person is. By defining yourself by what you do rather than by who are you can put yourself in emotional jeopardy. By losing touch with who you are, coping with life transitions, such as job loss, can be even more difficult.
When your job defines you, your world becomes very narrow. Thoughts about your job and the challenges you face are always on your mind no matter what you're doing or whom you're with. You subtly begin to value people, activities and relationships based solely on how they can help your career. And you consistently withdraw your time talent and energy from other areas of your life so that you can give more of yourself to your work, leaving you emotionally empty outside the office. When your job defines you, everything that happens at work seems personal.
In a great piece by Wallace Inmen in the Globe and Mail, "Losing Your Job, Losing Your Identity," reports that in a Globe and Mail survey 0f 12,000 respondents on the topic, more than 30% reported that their personal identities are defined by their career.
Does this describe you? You have few interests outside of work; you feel restless when you're not working; you can't carry on a conversation without referring to something at work; you make yourself available to people at work 24/7; and when you're at home with family, your mind is back at work. If it does, you've defined yourself too much by your job.
Barbara Moses, author of What's Next? Find the Work That's Right For You, says that all too often, titles and the status that goes with them are what people measure themselves by. So when they lose their job, they can feel adrift, purposeless and even depressed, often with disastrous physical effects. This seems to be much prevalent with men who see job loss as a source of shame and embarrassment.
So what to do about it?
First of all, get a life! Have meaningful purpose, activities and pursuits that are as important as work. Develop a healthy work life balance, where you are not emotionally tied to work 24/7. Redefine achievement and accomplishment. When people gather at your graveside when you're life is over, it's unlikely they'll be talking about what a hard worker you were or refer to your resume. Develop strong and healthy emotional connections with people outside of work that can help provide meaning in life, and be a support if and when you have a sudden career change.
And finally, go through the process of understanding and defining who you are not just what you do. Why are you here on this earth? Who are you, stripped of the work that you do? This self-examination alone, will give you the strength to survive the ups and downs of a career life.
Ray Williams is Co-Founder of Success IQ University, and President of Ray Williams Associates, companies located in Phoenix and Vancouver providing leadership development, personal growth and executive coaching services.