Community//

I work, therefore I am. Is it?

On the importance of separating your true self from what you do for a living.

Photo by Alessandro La Becca on Unsplash
Photo by Alessandro La Becca on Unsplash

We live in a world that asks children “what do you want to be when you grow old?” It is a question about their career choices. Yet, it comes out as a question about their identity. Be is a strong, powerful word. So, I am writing this article to remind you that you are what you are regardless of what you do. I say this to myself before I say it to all of you.

Sometimes, it is hard to make a distinction between your job, what you do for a living, and your sense of self. Your job can take over and become your identity. Many people including myself cannot tell the difference. This should not be the case. In a world that values work above all others, those who are jobless can suffer the most.

To be honest, viewing career as identity has never really bothered me before. I had a full-time job. So, I never had a problem with the question “What do you do for a living?” It is an easy question except when you don’t have a job.  Now, I am doing nothing. After you reply, you get the awkward silence, the looks of pity, and the unasked questions of why you are jobless no one ask out of decency. It was only when I was asked that question when I was jobless that I realized that I linked my sense of self to the job I do. It became an awkward question because I felt lost. I felt that I didn’t know myself. I had nothing else – besides my career – to say about myself to make the world proud.  

Okay, let me tell you honestly why I am jobless. I had a good job at an international company with a salary I had never dreamt of. But at the same time, the working hours were crazy. I didn’t have time to breathe let alone do any activity outside work. For two years, my life became about two activities only: working and sleeping. By the end of the two years, I was exhausted. Exhausted feels like an understatement. I cannot even begin to describe how tired I felt.  I literally dragged myself out of bed at 5:00 AM to catch the bus at 5:30. I had a sense of impending doom. This job is going to kill me. I kept telling myself every day.  I knew I needed a break. It was a hard decision to make because it was a well-paid job. I felt imprisoned by my salary. It took me many months to make the decision. I could not find a better job to jump into, so I decided to jump into the unknown. Besides, I really wanted the break. So, leaving my job without landing on another one wasn’t really an issue for me. I had other plans: rest, relax, read, and do some writing of my own. I have my savings to last for a couple of months. So, why not?

After leaving my job, I get flooded by questions about my next job. Are you looking for a new job? Have you found anything yet? I understand the concern and worry. I truly do. My desire to relax and rest was not fully understood by those around me. I was looked at as someone who is totally out of their mind, to leave a good job and not even look for another one. And then it hurt me to be that passionate person who loves to read and write, to be with multiple interests, to be the person who is eager to learn and embrace life and be regarded by everyone else as “useless” just because I was jobless. 

I am not trying here to degrade work, far from it. I will eventually get back in track and find myself a job. It will have to be something I love with reasonable working hours. What I am saying is don’t let society force you to mistake “yourself” with what you do for a living. More importantly, don’t fall into the same trap yourself. I realized my problem when I was jobless. When I couldn’t say more about myself without supporting my words with what I do for a living. You are more than just a job. If you don’t detach your true self from what you do, you’ll suffer severely. Your job is not who you are. What I’m also saying is work is important but it’s not the only thing that matters. Your health matters, your hobbies matter. Listen to yourself and listen to what you really want to do. Don’t let society and its image of you stand in the way of what you really want. If it fits you, it fits you. Full Stop. You are who you are whether or not you have a job, and whether or not you have a hobby. Know yourself and appreciate it before someone forces you to mistake what you do for what you are.

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