Ever heard the saying, “You are what you do”? Seems to me that there’s more to life than just our jobs. But for many people, the problem isn’t how much they work, but how they define themselves in relation to their work. If you are, in fact, “what you do,” then you’ve reversed the order of things. You’re serving your career rather than letting your career serve you. Not healthy! Even the simplest job exists to offer you fulfillment and income to do other things that make you happy. If the standard of mental health is to find inner peace, then living for your career can’t be healthy. You can choose to drive your career, or be driven by it.
If you live exclusively for your job, then losing it can be a genuine catastrophe and can represent a loss of self. A writer on About.com says, “Job loss can have a profound effect on your emotional well being. There is a typical cycle that most people experience. This cycle includes denial, anger, frustration, and eventually adaptation. Many of us closely identify ourselves by what we do for a living.” I remember a particular episode of the TV show “Frasier” that dealt with the neurotic radio psychiatrist losing his job — and subsequently his whole identity. Amusing, but sadly true-to-life.
Like an unexpected death, losing your job prior to retirement can be sudden and devastating. Though traumatic, it can also present the opportunity to muster up the courage to try something different (since you really have no choice anyway). If you erroneously defined yourself as worthwhile because of your work, you now have the opportunity to recognize that you can actually be a worthwhile person — who happens to work. Accomplishments do say something about you, but it doesn’t logically follow that the virtuous traits and qualities that gave rise to those accomplishments suddenly disappear simply because of a change in economic conditions.
One victim of job loss, writing on Allaboutlifechallenges.com, states, “Coping with job loss can create an identity crisis. I lost the career I had held for more than twenty-five years due to a serious injury. Because of my resulting limitations, I could not get another job. While employed in my field, I experienced such pride and satisfaction. I valued my education, my experience, the longevity of my career, and my capabilities. Now it was gone.” Well put! But here’s what he’s missing: He didn’t achieve career success and satisfaction by chance. He made his success happen. He has to move forward and ask himself, “What traits and attributes made me successful?” By being specific, and then applying those traits to new avenues and endeavors, he will discover that his talents are intact and ready to be applied again.
If you possess the strength of character to have built an occupation worth grieving over, then you surely have the ability to start a new one. It’s not pie-in-the-sky. It’s all in your thoughts and attitude. Americans in particular tend to assume that things will remain good and will only get better. That’s a healthy outlook (and in short supply nowadays), but it’s also important to NOT feel entitled. This is probably even truer for very successful people, because in a sense they have more to lose. But if you feel entitled to success simply because you have had it up to now (however earned it might have been), then you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary pain if things don’t go your way.
Don’t wrap your self-worth around a particular job. Instead, connect your self-worth to the virtues that got you that job in the first place. Tie it to the desire to feel productive, creative and needed. These desires and skills stay with you from career to career; through good times and bad. They’re your stability. Tap into them and put them to work for you.
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