"Ideas" Written on sign

Who Are You When You’re Not At Work?

I was delighted to see this piece by Frank Sonnenberg –

Your Job Doesn’t Define You

This has been a topic I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about over the last few months. I realize that our society has pushed this idea of identifying yourself by what you do at your job, at the expense of everything else. I also am at an age where I see how limiting that is. Working as a techie, a lawyer, a writer, etc. is only a part of who were are as human beings.

What’s interesting is that years ago I had a similar idea when confronted with the idea that someone would identify as a child abuse survivor, and only that. Back then I wrote something that came back to me as I considered this idea when it comes to work:

To me, a balanced life is one that has many stories. If I look back at the last 47 years of my life and only see “child abuse survivor”, that means that I’ve not done enough to be something more than that. Yes, it is part of who I am, but only part. I’m also a number of other things, a husband, a friend, a trainer, a sports fan, a photographer, a goofball, etc. Those stories are also part of who I am, and they are just as important as being a survivor.

It’s interesting to find myself viewing work through this same lens because the issues are the same. If I focus too much on one story, in this case, my job, the rest of my life gets out of balance. In fact, the more important stuff gets out of balance, my family, friends, and health. There’s no job that is worth that, yet if I allow my job to define me, that’s exactly what will happen.

It also gives far too much power to employers. They have quite enough as it is. One bad decision leading to a round of layoffs can already create economic havoc for thousands of workers. It shouldn’t make anyone question their value as a human, but that’s exactly what it does. There’s an embarrassment about getting caught up in a reduction in force that shouldn’t be ours. If anyone should be embarrassed it’s the leaders who led the company to that point, not the individual workers who are simply a number in the accounting of work. But, because we have been encouraged to define ourselves by our jobs, it’s our identity that comes into question as opposed to leaving that at work and identifying ourselves by all the other things we are doing outside of work.

It reminds me of something else that has been rattling around in my head since I read Simone Stolzoff’s “The Good Enough Job” a few months ago. It’s a story about Toni Morrison and the advice her father gave her when she was complaining about her day job. (She held a day job outside of her writing for most of her life.)

He told her – “Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to Work. Get your money. And come on home”

We’ve lost this idea. We’ve bought into the fallacy that being engaged at work, having best friends at work, and bringing our full selves to work is the “correct” way to function and get ahead in life. That working 60-80 hours per week at our jobs is somehow going to change the world. I think Toni’s father had it right.

Get your money, then come home. Nothing less, nothing more. Work is not home, your life isn’t there.


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