If I were to ask if your identity was defined by your career, I expect you would say ‘Of course not!’. And that might be true. Because we know that we are more than just our work.
It’s natural that a big part of our identity is defined by our career. The danger is when our sense of self becomes so entangled with what we do at work.
When I left my corporate career, the last thing I expected was to have an identity crisis of sorts.
For over two decades, I had poured virtually all my energy into my work. I had built a successful career that I was proud of and I left corporate on a high. Eager and excited to begin my next chapter. I did not expect that six months later I would be struggling – asking myself “If I was no longer a high flying corporate warrior, then who was I?”
Enmeshment is an interesting term in psychology where boundaries become unclear.
You don’t intentionally enmesh your identity with your career but it sort of creeps up on you. How and where we focus our attention is a big factor.
Many high performing individuals tend to fall into two traps –
- They spend more time thinking, planning and organising their work; with little attention spent on defining what they want from their own life
- They work hard to meet external expectations to climb the corporate ladder and in the process lose touch with who they really are
If this sounds familiar, there are things you can begin today to reclaim your identity.
Develop your self awareness. Pay greater attention to what energises and fills you up – at work and outside of work. Once you’ve identified this, find ways to introduce this into your work. If that’s not possible, then look for areas outside of work that can meet this need. Your identity is not defined by one thing but is a reflection of the sum total of your whole person.
Begin a practice of self reflection. Tap into the natural cadence of the annual planning cycle. Spend some quiet time at least once a year reviewing your life in totality. When have you felt like your most authentic best self? How can you bring more of those moments into your life? What is missing and how will you address this going forward?
Maintain your sense of curiosity to continue learning. You may be fortunate to work in a company that prioritises employee development. Use those opportunities to continue growing in areas that interest you. Where do you have the greatest hunger for learning and growth? And what if it has nothing to do with your work? That’s not a bad thing! Diversifying your interests will open up more opportunities if and when you want to transition your career.
Our careers play an important role in providing us with a sense of purpose. But we have to be mindful that it doesn’t completely hijack our identity. By taking these small intentional steps we can have a successful and meaningful career while still remaining anchored in our sense of self.