A Breakdown: The Problem With Basing Your Whole Identity on Your Career

Now that we are all working remotely (for now), I feel so much more “enmeshed” with my job. My typical work-life balance has been blurred, and in some cases obliterated.

It was a sharp adjustment, last March, when we were all thrown into always-on WFH life. Work started to bleed into home life. And even months later, I’ve noticed that work is so much more all-consuming than it ever was pre-pandemic. 

Work and my career have been on my mind lately, especially now that all social engagements, trips and other “normal” activities have been canceled until further notice–work is all I’ve got going on.

How “Work” Functions in Our Society

Have you ever noticed that when we meet new people we always ask, “What do you do?”

This is all too common for us–a person’s work tells us so much about who they are: their socio-economic status, what they’re interested in, what they spend their days doing. For us, asking this question is the first key to understanding a new face.

Think about it for a second: So much of our self-worth and identity is tied to our jobs. I know mine is. 

Why is that? Capitalism? Being raised by my father who was an entrepreneur? 

Joshua Fields Millburn, in Everything That Remains, poses an interesting alternative question to ask instead: ask a stranger not what their job is, but what their mission is. This question gets to the core of who a person is and what they value, versus what they do for money. 

I like the idea, but I’ll be honest, it feels a bit too personal to ask a total stranger if you are attempting small talk. I’m gl I’m not the only one who has questioned why our society puts so much emphasis on career choices. 

It’s got me thinking: We are so much more than just our careers. 

We all know this, yes. But I think we need to be reminded again, now that we are WFH until further notice. 

The last few months I’ve had to look long and hard at myself. And the truth is: A majority of my adult life identity has been centered around my career.

In college, I thought about it constantly and I threw myself into internships and classes to get me to where I needed to go. But I did it out of necessity, mostly. Unlike other students, I didn’t have the safety net of my parents to catch me if I failed. I had to make it on my own. And that meant hustling. 

Now that I’m a few years into my career, the novelty of having a new, shiny, post-college “career” has worn off. And now that I’m a bit more established, I get the luxury of even asking, “now what?”

Before the pandemic I filled that space with friend outings, volunteering at a local animal shelter and travel. And I’ve now had to define “now what?” with other things. Sometimes it means no screen time. Sometimes it means crocheting. And sometimes it means watching Bob’s Burgers. It depends on the day and the time. But lately, it means just learning and being okay. 


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