Does Your Job Define You?

One of the first questions a new acquaintance will ask you is, “What type of work do you do?”  Do you define yourself by what you do for a living?  Are you a salesperson, teacher or office administrator – or do you work in sales, teach or run an office?  Who are you when you’re not working?

Why Do We Work So Hard?

A Statistics Canada survey reported that one third of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 44 consider themselves workaholics.  It’s perceived as a necessity.  The rise of dual income families has as much to do with financial need as it has with choice.  A dual income household is not a guarantee of wealth.  Many working parents do not earn enough to hire a nanny or finance professional daycare for their children.  The earnings of a single person – or the single breadwinner of a family – has not kept up with inflation.  In fact it has declined.

Another reason for feverish work schedules is job insecurity.  Intense competition leads to longer hours and higher levels of stress when employees strive to distinguish themselves from one another, either in the eyes of their employer or potential clients.

People who work reduced hours pay a huge penalty in career terms.  It’s taken as a negative signal about their commitment to their employer.

Workaholics are less likely to seek personal fulfillment in their work.  Instead they come to see work simply as a way to pay the bills, a grind they must endure each day, sometimes settling for the first well-paying (albeit miserable) job that comes along.

Job Satisfaction

Given that we spend half of our daylight hours at work (and more like ¾ in the winter) it’s astounding that only about half of us get personal satisfaction from work activities.  If this is true, think of the huge untapped potential in the Canadian workforce that could be unleashed in the form of energy, commitment and productivity if more employers could figure out better ways to motivate their workers.

Many workers are looking to embrace ways of earning money that allow the most freedom and control such as self-employment and working for smaller businesses.

Technology is now allowing many of us to do what we have wanted to do for some time – be mobile, independent and have control over our own schedule and workspaces.  More people work from home.

Personal fulfillment on the job is seen as desirable as, or more so, than salary alone.  Many workers increasingly desire certain rewards including freedom to dress as they wish, take breaks when they wish, take regular vacations and work independently in a manner they find most comfortable.

To what degree do you feel your identity is symbolized by your employment?  Or do you identify more with activities outside of work such as family, religious institution or volunteer work for meaning in your life?

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  1. PKamp3 on October 18, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I think some of it is systemic – when people ask you, “what do you do?” the social norm is to reply with your job title. I think it would be funny if someone replied with “I’m a great chess player and book reader, but 1/3 of the time I sleep” or something similar.

    And yes, since people are trying to work harder to make an impression during the current economic conditions, it certainly doesn’t help the whole job-identity thing!

    • changeonabudget on October 18, 2011 at 10:41 am

      Oh my gosh that made me laugh out loud. “1/3 of the time I sleep”. Golden.

  2. krantcents on October 18, 2011 at 8:37 am

    When I started teaching, I had difficulty calling myself a teacher. It could be that society does not respect teachers, but I saw myself as a problem solver. I think it was a leftover from my consulting or executive days. I still refer to the fact that this is my 7th career. I do not want my career to define me. I want my experience, accomplishments and other things to define a lifetime of work and efforts.

  3. Jenny@Social SEO service on October 18, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Yes, it’s a very good question that each of us should ponder about it. In fact, i think that we should know the purpose of life and do what we like so that we are not trapped by dogma- which is living with the result of other people’s thinking.

  4. changeonabudget on October 18, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I think I am in an interesting position to reply to this post. I work with people recovering from addiction to find employment at the moment, and want my entire career to be focused in the not-for-profit world. That means my salary won’t be spectacular but I get way way more from my job than just money. Before taking the plunge into my current career path, I would come home from work cranky, tired and drained. After a week in my new field, my partner said I had done a 180 and was a new person. My job doesn’t just give me satisfaction at work – it helps me stay positive and happy in my personal life because of the fulfilment I get in helping others.

    Some of clients that I work with are unable to return to high-stress occupation such as sales, construction or upper management positions without jeopardizing their sobriety. Despite what a job pays, I think it is important to recognize the effects it can have on your mental health and life. The number one thing I hear from clients about why they have struggled to find work or why their past work increased their addiction always relates to not being passionate about their job. I think some people are perfectly able to find satisfaction outside of their work life, but for many it can be a struggle to put in the hours at something that brings nothing positive to your life other than a paycheck.

    As well, we/society tends to define and label others by their career/job so whether you personally define yourself another way, it can still be hard to escape that judgement.

  5. T.M @ My University Money on October 22, 2011 at 6:54 am

    As a teacher I’d say that my job does define me somewhat. It’s tough to be with kids everyday at not have it become a part of you (which is a good thing). That being said, I know there are teachers out there who are much more “I AM TEACHER” than myself. I see myself eventually shifting careers when an interesting opportunity presents itself? I wonder what degree of defining you is ideal or appropriate?

  6. Barnabas Willis on October 29, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Great topic. Based on the way that you described Canada’s situation, it doesn’t seem like the residents there have much of a choice. Economic conditions force them to place their jobs as a priority in order to maintain employment and provide for their families. I personally try to live by the philosophy that I should “work to live” and not “live to work”. My faith and my family are the most important thing to me. I am diligent at work because of those priorities. They give me the drive to be a good employee. I believe that anyone who allows their job to define them will encounter difficult times if/when that job is taken from them. It’s important to not have our identities based on material things because they don’t last. When I’m on my death bed, I won’t be thinking, “Oh crap, I should have worked 10 extra hours last week.” I will most likely think things such as, “I should have spent more time with my kids” or “I should have did more for my wife”. Thanks for the post.

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