Does My Job Make Me ‘Good Enough’?

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What made you go into the field you’re working in? Was it a burning passion to help people or did you know someone who helped you get into your line of work? People have many reasons as to why they are working their current job. What I’m curious to know is how does your job make you feel as a person? While many of us take great pride in our work, does that mean it’s the only thing we’re proud of? Relying on your job to define your personhood may lead to the question, “Does my job make me feel good enough?”

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The Power of “I Am…”

Many of us identify ourselves by what we do for a living. It’s more likely to hear someone say, “I am a lawyer”, than it is to hear them say, “I work as a lawyer.” In the therapy world, we call a sentence staring with I am an “I” statement. When you say I am_______, you’re really sharing a core value because it identifies something about you as a person, not just something you do.

So, for years when people ask what you do for a living, you identify yourself when you answer, “I am (fill in occupation here). When we meet someone new, don’t seem to identify ourselves as parents, siblings, lovers, friends, activists, wine connoisseurs, hiking fanatics, move buffs, and foodies. Our job identity tends to come before our other identifiers. When our jobs emphasize our personhood, then our jobs become the only measure of feeling ‘good enough’.

Before I move forward…you are good enough.

Who Are You Without Your Job?

If the world suddenly healed and there was no need for your professional services anymore, who would you be? How would you define yourself if world didn’t need you to clock into your job anymore? Would you feel good enough if you never returned to your job?

People have said that they wouldn’t know how to fill their time if they didn’t have their career. What the COVID-19 pandemic has taught many people who lost their jobs was there is more to life than just work. They spent more time with loved ones and picked up hobbies. However, others felt lost and purposeless without work and feel into a depression. Some of use just don’t know how to be human without a job.

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The Lie of the ‘American Dream’

We are taught from a young age that the best way to succeed is to go to school, get a good job, buy a house, get married, have kids, then retire. Then, you can finally enjoy your life. What an amazing lie that was. No matter what stage you are in life, you always take yourself with you. Your strengths, weaknesses, greatest accomplishments, the love in your heart and the thoughts running through your head are always with you.

The problem is, we spend 1/3 of our day doing only one thing…our jobs. Think about it this way, our days are divided into 3 sections of 8-hour periods. So, 1/3 of your time is sleeping, 1/3 is working, and the remaining 1/3 is yours. But do you actually feel like you have 8 hours of uninterrupted down-time spent with family, friends, and engaging in hobbies? The fact is that you spend time getting ready for work in the morning, commuting there and back, maybe even working over-time, then trying to find the energy to even cook dinner for yourself when you finally get home.

Societal Pressures and Upbringing

I wouldn’t be a therapist if I didn’t wonder why people are defining their worth by their job, and their job only. Two major reasons why over-achievers use their work to measure their self-wroth are because of societal pressures, and upbringing.

Like we discussed earlier, societal norms tell us that in order to be successful, we must go to college to have a career. A career will lead to money, which will buy a house and afford children, cars, and vacations. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone. But you do have the degree, the career, house, and cars…why aren’t you satisfied? Well, that’s likely because of your upbringing.

Having a successful career may have been a core value in your family. Many people feel the pressure to break the cycle of poverty or live up to the expectations that other family members set to be highly successful or wealthy. Families can put on the pressure for people to have an impressive like Dr. or CEO. Families can also pressure the younger generation to carry out their legacy and ask that children enter the same line of work as their parents.

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Work-Life Balance

Not everyone needs to feel validated by their jobs; but if you’re reading this, your job title is probably important to you. The question becomes, ‘How do I create a healthy work-life balance?’

  • Ask yourself, if work comes first, what’s a close second? Then ask why that’s important to you.
  • Spend 1 hour a day doing any non work-related activity you enjoy. You can make room for one hour.
  • Socialize! No, your clients/customers don’t count. We are social creatures. Whether it’s grabbing lunch with a friend or playing online games, spend time with other humans.
  • Choose a hard deadline and stick to it! If work is supposed to end by 7p.m., then clock out. Allowing yourself to spend “just 5 more minutes” often turns into another few hours getting something done.
  • Use mantras! Something you tell yourself to remind you that you’re setting a boundary between yourself and work. “I have the power to create peace in my life,” “I am worthy of taking a break,” and “Finishing this task tonight will not make me more worthy of a person,” are some helpful suggestions.
  • Remember “I” statements? For your entire work shift you are a/an [insert job title here]. But when it’s time to clock out, change your “I” statement to “I am a parent/spouse/gym rat/artist/skateboarder/etc.”
  • Create a ritual after work! Go get a coffee or take your dog on a walk. Do somethings that signals to your brain that you are transitioning from your work self to your authentic self.

Final Thoughts

Lean into the idea that you wear different hats. Even visualizing taking off your work hat and putting on your hat for the next part of your day can be helpful! You are more than your career.

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