A Practical How-To Guide To Creating An Identity For Yourself Beyond Your Work
In today’s hustle-obsessed world, our careers and aspirations reign supreme in our list of priorities. We care deeply; we chase our passions; we work hard. And it’s expected — encouraged even. Your work field is where you’re to dominate because if you’re not out here pushing yourself to the next level, and being acknowledged for it, what are you doing?
This always-on, always-grinding mentality penetrates every part of our lives. It’s plastered over social media via workshops and seminars and how-to posts. And because of this amount of time and attention we dedicate to our work, our job title is often our first response when asked: “So tell me about yourself.”
It’s our badge of honor, weaving itself into our identity, to the point where it encompasses it. That’s exactly where I found myself last year.
Switching from Journalism to PR & Advertising in the middle of a pandemic placed me at a new company, in a new field and in a working model (WFH) new to everyone. The need to prove myself became all the more pressing. How am I going to show my dedication while working from home? How will I network? How will I show myself stepping up?
I said “Yes” a lot. I made myself readily available, picking up calls after work hours and responding to messages well into the night after midnight. I checked my email and Microsoft Teams first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I over-delivered, stepping into different projects, and fed off praise and acknowledgment. I gave and gave and gave.
My work, of my own volition, took over my life and my identity. And when I let my identity become my job title, my perspective narrowed. By making work so integral to my every day, other parts of my life began to suffer.
Criticism of my work became a criticism of me. I saw less of friends and family as I prioritized work. When something went wrong at work, instead of it being simply a bad moment, it spawned thoughts about my value as a person, dragging my self-esteem into the muck. I soon realized the risky position I was placing myself in. Not only was my mental health yo-yoing according to my productivity, but if I were to burn out or lose my job, I’d be barreling straight into an identity crisis, as the pillar my sense of self was balanced on crumbled beneath me.
Is this who I am? I asked myself. Am I just the work tasks I accomplish throughout the day? Am I not more than the accomplishments and failures I experience at work?
Your identity is supposed to be a combination of things you do — it’s your beliefs, your strengths, weaknesses, passions, talents, values, and more. So when we allow ourselves to be doing just the one thing – work – it’s hardly a surprise it becomes your entire identity. Sadly, differentiating between who you are at work and who you are personally isn’t an easy path to navigate. Acknowledging it was my first step, followed by four more steps.
Here are four ways to create an identity for yourself outside of work:
1. Carve out time for your other interests and hobbies
It’s a simple one but it’s also something easy to overlook. After all, a grueling workday can leave anyone too mentally exhausted to do anything but bingewatch Netflix. Schedule in time during the day if you can or keep it for the night but schedule it. Whether it’s exploring new hairstyles, grabbing a bite with a friend, or checking out an art exhibition… make time and make sure it has nothing to do with work. This is where you’ll start to broaden your identity again.
I enjoy Sudoku puzzles a lot so I went ahead and grabbed one of those 100 New York Times Sudoku Puzzles books to solve at night before bed. Keeps me away from the screen and engages me. Ask yourself what your Sudoku book is.
2. Set clear boundaries at work
Honestly, it’s easier said than done. Especially if you’re still in a WFH model. And it may be tough at first if you made yourself (like me!) readily available but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
Don’t pick up after-hour or weekend calls. Stop checking your email after the day is done. Make use of that “Away” status on your Microsoft Teams, Slack, or their equivalent on your office software. If you’re being constantly nagged (we all know a colleague like this), drop that person a message firmly stating you’ll pick up whatever is being requested during work hours tomorrow.
Of course, concessions might have to be made from time-to-time but stand steadfast on these boundaries and people will soon come to respect it.
3. Celebrate your non-work accomplishments
Perfecting that recipe. Reaching a new fitness goal. Making someone else’s day better. There are a million and one things that happen in our lives that are often overshadowed by work. Acknowledge them and celebrate them.
I keep a running note on my phone that includes my favorite moments each year and it includes all sorts of odd bits and pieces that I’m proud of – from cracking an egg one-handed to standing up to family, I pen it all down.
4. Identify your values and what makes you, you
Your core values guide your actions and decisions. They remind you who you are and what you enjoy. They can change over time but to genuinely understand what drives you can be the map you need to navigate yourself through any identity crisis and help you make the decisions you need to bring about the change you wish to see.
At the end of the day, our job titles are a simple representation of what we do, barely scratching the surface of who we are. I’m learning to appreciate my work without losing myself to it in the process and carving a more balanced identity by diversifying my interests and relationships.
Sana Panjwani is a copywriter based in Dubai, UAE. Before that, she worked as an editor at the by-women, for-women publication The Tempest. You can find her on TikTok, Clubhouse, Instagram, and Twitter under the handle @sanapanjwan1. Please don’t try to find her on Facebook, she never checks it.
Image via Unsplash