You Are So Much More Than Your Work

Most of us have a tendency to make our work, what we get paid to do, a big part of our identity. You can see this all the time in our culture. When you introduce yourself to someone, you likely talk about what you do for work. Almost everyone does this; it is just a part of our social norms. And given how much of our waking time we typically spend working, it obviously has a significant impact on how we see ourselves in the world.

​But there is a danger to this as well. A career is not your entire personality; not if you are living a healthy life. You have hobbies. You may be a parent. There are things you excel at. All these factors combine, along with your daily habits and the narrative that you tell yourself and others, to form your unique identity. Where it gets to be problematic is when you focus on your career to the exclusion of the other parts of your life, and your work subsumes your identity.

​This is a recipe for disaster.

​Things get even worse when your sense of self-worth comes from validation of meeting your targets at work. Most employers measure the performance of their employees by setting targets. This often leads you to feeling better about yourself if you have exceeded your targets. If they set your target very high, you will probably end up feeling that you’re not “enough”. And if instead you crush your targets, you feel amazing. But too often the trade-off was that the success you had in your work forced you to put everything into your work life, leaving you nothing left in the tank for the rest of your life.

Tying your sense of self-worth to your job performance is very dangerous.

Fully separating your career and your identity is not possible.

You spend so much of your waking time at work that you are inevitably going to make that part of who you are. But you need to ask yourself tough questions:

  • what do you like about yourself other than your job title?
  • what things in your life outside of your career am you most proud of?
  • if you lost your job tomorrow, would you still know who you were? Would you still like yourself and believe that you have value to add to the world?

These are important questions to consider. And if you discover that too much of your career informs too much of your identity, it is a clear sign you need to take action. You need to widen your focus to include other parts of your life, to ensure that you are in a healthy relationship with work. So many of us allow work to take way too big of a role in our lives.

If you allow your work to play too big of a role in forming your identity, you are putting yourself on the path to a burnout.

Please stop before you go too far down that path. It is too important. Burning yourself out for work is not worth it.

​But — you cannot deny that your work plays a crucial role in who you are. So much of our time and energy goes into our work that it is important to ensure that our work aligns with who we want to be. If you don’t feel that your job is contributing to you becoming the person who you wish to become, you need to craft your job, so that it gets you where you are trying to go.

Work should give you more than just a paycheck.

Consider the story that you tell yourself about who you are. See if you can describe yourself in a way that is not tightly coupled with your work. Try removing the labels that you put on yourself, which will open you up to expanding your sense of self. You are the author of your life, so you may as well make the story interesting and exciting — and not just about work.

Lack clarity on what you want out of your work and how to go about getting it? I got you! Check it out.



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Tim Parkins

Tim Parkins


Career Coach & Work Architect. Work shouldn’t be something you hate doing. I can help you get there.