In the United States, it’s pretty common for one of the first questions you ask when meeting someone to be “So, what is it that you do?”. We’re taught from a young age that it’s expected of us to identify with our careers. For a lot of people, their chosen career is something that they’ve worked hard to achieve for a long time, so it’s natural to view it as a source of pride or accomplishment. However, it can be problematic when you start to view your self-worth in relation to your job.
This is especially true when people lose their jobs. When you feel your worth as a person is tied to your job status, losing your job can be traumatic. Many people feel ashamed or depressed after losing a job, even though it’s something that happens all the time. A lot of folks in the US have a different job status to the one they had a year ago because of the pandemic, and that can bring up a lot of complicated feelings. Remember though, that you aren’t worthy or unworthy based on your employment status. You deserve to feel self-worth regardless of whether you’re working in a job you love, working in a job that helps pay some bills, looking for work, working at home (caring for kids or family members) or choosing to take a break from work. You can even really love what you do and still feel the need to distance your self-worth from your career. It’s okay to have lots of interests, and embracing those interests can make us more well-rounded friends, loved ones, and employees.
If this is something you’ve struggled with before, here are some ways to start separating your sense of worth from your job (even if you really love your job!):
Be the change you want to see
Instead of asking folks that you meet what they do for work, ask them about what makes them happy or what they like to do in their free time. Show through your example that life can be about more than just work if you want it to be. Talk about the variety of ways you show up in the world – include your job if you want, but include other things as well so people get the full picture of you. People might feel grateful for the opportunity to share more about what makes them tick.
Be kind to yourself
Do you ever pay attention to how you talk to yourself? Take notice and ask yourself: Am I being kind? Would I say this to a friend? Beating yourself up for making mistakes or not being perfect is just going to leave you feeling miserable. People make mistakes. You’re a human. You’re not perfect. You deserve to be nice to yourself anyway. No matter what job you have or don’t have, you are worthy of being treated with respect by others, and by yourself!
Follow your curiosity
Think about the things you liked when you were a kid. What were you passionate about? Did you spend all your free time outside? Maybe try to incorporate more time in nature into your schedule. Were you a storyteller? Explore different ways to tell stories now (audiobooks, podcasts, fanfiction, a virtual writing group). There are surely things that you enjoy outside of what you do for work.
Know that if work is important to you, that’s okay
Work is important to a lot of us. It’s what keeps a roof over our heads and food on the table. A lot of us really like the work we do! The world would be a worse place if people weren’t passionate about what they do. This isn’t to say that you can’t be immensely proud of your work, and even to identify by your career path. This is just a reminder that part of being a human is to have many experiences, and it’s okay to have multiple identities. You can be a teacher and a bird enthusiast and a gifted home chef and a trusted friend. You don’t have to choose just one.
Do things just for the enjoyment of doing them
There are a lot of reasons that people are overworked right now. Many folks are in an economic crisis due to the pandemic, and even before that, it was common for people to have multiple jobs. If you’re worried about where your next meal is coming from, it makes sense that you don’t have a lot of time to cultivate hobbies and develop new interests. However, it can be really powerful to reclaim rest for yourself, just for the enjoyment of resting. You don’t have to rest because rest makes people more productive at work (although if that’s what motivates you, it’s fine to feel that way!), you can just rest because you’re a human and you deserve rest. You don’t have to monetize every skill you have. Remember that you can find worth in things outside of their monetary value. You can enjoy things just for the sake of enjoying them.
Ask for help
As we said above, there are a lot of reasons why people might not have the emotional or financial ability to rest right now. We value independence as a culture, and it can be seen as a weakness to ask for help, but the only way we can truly make life better for people is by helping each other. Our communities know how to care for each other, we just need to make it less taboo to ask. Practice asking for help when you need it, without apologizing.