In 2011, a Gallup poll found that 55% of Americans got identity from their job. That number was 70% for college graduates.
What do you think those numbers are now? With the advent of the smartphone, the lines between our work lives and our personal lives are more blurred than ever. We feel we are expected, implicitly or explicitly, to always be available – to our bosses, to our subordinates, and to everyone else in our lives.
How are we supposed to find identity outside of work when we spend 40, 50, or 60 hours a week there? Even after we get home, our thoughts are often preoccupied with work. You may have notifications pinging you throughout dinner and while you sleep.
This constant interference makes it difficult to pull ourselves away and develop interests beyond work. But in order to be successful inside and outside of work, we need an identity that is separate from what we do for a paycheck.
Here are a few tips on how to expand your sense of self.
Separating your work from your identity is not asking you to shrug off the months and years you have spent educating yourself, working diligently, and networking in order to get where you are. You have every reason to be proud of your achievements. Separating your personality from your occupation does not ask you to minimize your accomplishments.
Instead of thinking that work itself is important to your identity, focus instead on the skills and lessons you have learned through your job. Your knowledge is a valuable part of who you are as a person and it will stay with you, but your job may change.
Set times and days when it is not okay to contact you. Make sure that the people at work understand that nights, weekends, and holidays are your time, not theirs. Being in your work exclusively makes it difficult to thrive outside of it.
Hold your boundaries strong. If you worry that those at work cannot abide your rules, set rules for yourself. Place a charging station in an inconvenient place in the house and set the phone on silent. Turn the phone on airplane mode at night. Do whatever it takes to separate this world from that world.
More than any other piece of information, understanding what you value will tell you more about who you are and what you should do with your time. You need to know your principles and then have a plan to act in accordance with those principles.
Take a piece of paper and create two columns. In column one, write down your core values. There are lists of values online if you need a little help. In column two, write down what you spend most of your time doing. How are these different?
As you review the two lists, try to bring the two lists more in sync. Family is likely more important to you than work. Are you demonstrating that in your words and actions?
What have you done outside of work that you are proud of and feel are valuable contributions? Don’t let others dictate whether an endeavor of yours was successful. Do you feel happy when you play the banjo (poorly)? Does making children smile create lightness in your heart? Have you bowled a perfect game?
Sharing with others and journaling about our accomplishments can foster a deeper feeling of gratitude for those aptitudes.
We let the competitive nature of our work environments consume us. Even if we say we aren’t worried about Keeping Up with the Jones’s, the idea of being left out and left behind sometimes clouds our vision and pushes us to undermine our true values. Set goals for yourself—professional and personal—that don’t rely on comparisons with others. You can refer back to these goals anytime your conscience goads you to push harder. Rest comfortable knowing that you have clearly laid out values that you are adhering to.
It is possible to get through a large part of our lives and never know what our interests are. We move from grade school to university to work without thinking about what would make us happy. We think happiness comes later after we’ve accomplished certain things and we forget to develop ourselves.
Ask yourself what you enjoyed as a child. While you have gone through millions of changes in your life, there is some core inside of you that is probably untouched. Try to find a community to participate in that shares that interest. In person is always better than online, but take what you can get.
This can be volunteering, playing chess, or making paper dolls. Find what makes you feel transcendent. Being part of something that is bigger than ourselves can give us a deep sense of meaning.
Don’t be afraid that you aren’t the kind of person who enjoys things outside of work, or who volunteers, or who plays cards. It may seem to you that who you are dictates your behavior. This is a half-truth. Your behavior and personality are on a feedback loop. If you want to become a different person, you must act differently. Your identity will follow.
Start spending more time on your life outside of work, even if it feels forced. You will eventually become the kind of person who effortlessly chooses going camping with friends over picking up extra hours at work.