Distinguishing yourself from your work

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Choose a New Direction 3d words many possible choices before you in changing jobs

In a society where most working professionals spend so much of their time at work, going to and from work, thinking about work or planning how to leverage their current work to get more interesting and better paying work, it is difficult to determine where work ends and the person begins. When I hear statements like, “you are not what you do”, I simultaneously think about quotes like these two:

We are what we do repeatedly.  ~Aristotle
We first make our habits and then our habits make up ~John Dryden

Frankly, I disagree with the idea that we are not our work.  While we can be more than “just our work”, our work  is a central part of us and defines much of who we are as a function of comprising so much of what we do.

Your work controls much of what you actually do and often places you in situations whereby you perform your work with people performing similar functions.  This narrow context suggests that the information that you are most often exposed to and have easiest access to is limited…and controlling.  Moreover, depending on the culture of your organization or the direction in which you’d like to see your career progress, you may spend a lot of time networking with similarly-minded people moving in the same direction.  Essentially, you experience acculturation which impacts and possibly informs the actions that you take.  You aim to fit in under the guise of “picking and choosing your battles”.   In reality, what you are really doing is what is expected of you so that you encounter less resistance.

I think people say that we are not our work because they don’t like what that statement means.  What if you have a job that you don’t enjoy or doesn’t confer upon you the salary or status you believe you deserve?  Conversely, what if you have a job that generously compensates you and gives you a fair amount of status?  In the former situation, the person doesn’t want to feel limited to his work while in the latter case, the person doesn’t want to be regarded as arrogant.  In both cases, in order to actually be “more than their work”, both people have to intentionally seek a life outside of work.  On the other hand, if we said that a person was a “prayer warrior”, we’d be okay with that person being defined by his or her work, and that person would likely argue that s/he couldn’t be separated from that work and how it has influenced him or her (Sidebar:  You’ve never had a more frustrating experience until you try to do business with someone who wants to discuss Jesus to the detriment of the purpose for which you’ve come together!).  Likewise, we are okay with women being defined as mothers and other labels that you appreciate.  We just don’t like it when a job and pay define us because we convince ourselves that such is superficial and inadequate.

It is possible to define yourself beyond work; however, that requires intentional consistent work.  I would venture to say that most people don’t do that work.  Whether due to overwhelming demands on their time, exhaustion, fear, or something else, most people are about the maintenance of life outside of work rather than defining it.  Therefore, I contend that you are your work.

If you don’t like what you are as a function of your work, have you asked the question, “what am I outside of work?”  Have you begun defining the answer to that question?

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