Interesting reading in the Atlantic this week, from Arthur Brooks. on how even when our employers manage to see us as human beings, and not just a tool of productivity, we somehow manage to identify ourselves mostly by the work we do.
He calls it self-objectifying, similar to the way we might objectify others by their looks, career, etc., and only view them through that one lens. It’s actually demeaning to other people and leads to hurt for them, not to mention that it’s also a confirmation bias that can create harm for us as well. (We tend to assume good looking people are successful, smart, and trustworthy, for no particular reason at all, for example)
The reason it’s harmful to view ourselves in an objectifying way is the same. It causes a disconnect between our humanity, our inherent value, and our work. We are not our work, but sometimes our work can become the thing that we are proud of, and then it just kind of dominates every thought, conversation, etc. As Arthur says:
The great irony is that by trying to be special, we end up reducing ourselves to a single quality, and turning ourselves into cogs in a machine of our own making. In his 1964 book Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” He noted that in the famous Greek myth, Narcissus fell in love not with himself, but with the image of himself. And so it is when we professionally self-objectify: Our work is our medium, and it becomes our message. We learn to love the image of our successful selves, not ourselves as we truly are in life.
Don’t make this mistake. You are not your job, and I am not mine. Take your eyes off the distorted reflection, and have the courage to experience your full life and true self.
I think this is something that many of us have been realizing to some degree in the past couple of years. We are more than our work, and there are things in life that are more important than our work. I enjoyed the questions and challenges Arthur lays out as well, so you should go read the article and consider those. As I read through them I had one thought, over and over again.
How many of my friends don’t even care about what I do for a living?
I feel very lucky to have those folks. The people who’ve remained friends regardless of my current career status, The ones who might not even really understand what I do for a living. Because they ground me, and remind me that in actuality, what I do during my workday isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s all well and good to be great at my job, but the important people in my life are there because of the relationship we have, not because I’m good at legal tech, and I want them in my life because of who they are, not what their job is.
That’s a big deal.