While I’m a strong believer in finding a passion and purpose in your work, lately I’ve been seeing far too many people attaching their identity to their job role, as if what they do for work, is simply all of who they are and what they do.
“But I’m the director”... or….. “I can’t possibly do that because I’m the manager.”
It’s becoming a common occurrence, where I see people denying themselves relationships, hobbies and even sacrificing their own health and wellbeing because they feel their work, and the illusion of their job role means that they cannot live a life that isn’t contained within an office.
For many, there is an assumption that work should be everything. Much worse, in some organisations, it is simply expected that you put everything else in your life behind your work.
Commitments not related to work are seen as distractions and unwelcome interventions, trivial to the high priorities of work. People are striving to put their roles above the desires of their souls.
The trouble is, take away the title and the job, and what are you left with?
In research on those who have been made redundant or who are seeking employment, depression is often caused by a lack of identity. We put so much of ourselves on ‘what we do’, that when we are left without a title or a role to fill we feel lost.
People often feel they should shut out part of who they are when they are at work.
This fusion of identity with our roles can be deeply damaging to other areas of our lives.
In the first place, we forget that as humans we are deeply creative creatures with multifaceted aspects to our characters. Yet we constrain all of who we are to fit into one singular role.
Therefore rather than exploring our many talents and hobbies, we push these aside to try and fit into just one role. Ignoring the fact that this will later cause us burnout and put us at risk of depression.
In the second place, our striving for a role, and a role we feel has power makes us believe we are superior to our fellow humans. Often reducing feelings of empathy towards colleagues but in some instances also towards family and friends.
As Frederic Laloux so eloquently puts it, “job titles are like honeypots to the ego: alluring and addictive but ultimately unhealthy.”
The difficulty we have in separating ourselves from a role and fulfilling a balanced lifestyle, is that many of our social interactions encourage us to make work the overruling trophy in our lives.
You’ve probably experienced this for yourself at many social gatherings. The first question that pops up as soon as you meet someone new is – “What do you do?”
It’s as if our work is all that we are and all that we do, and by revealing this, our new friend will know all that there is to know about us.
Being complexed human beings, we all know this is rubbish, and one of the worst questions to ask someone. Yet, it still gets put out there.
Unfortunately, in the UK our relationship with our roles continues to cause more pain than pleasure. Research by Mahabis in November 2018 found that the UK has the worst work-life balance in Western Europe. This comes as no surprise, as the UK currently ranks 29th in the Organisation for Economic Development Better Life Index. Sitting just above the United States for work-life balance.
While it is essential for our wellbeing to have fulfilling careers that we enjoy, as a society we need to stop believing that our job represents our full human potential.
The Retirement Reality
If all of this hasn’t made you question your relationship with your role, then perhaps you’re in need of a retirement reality check?
You may be working towards a retirement you will never get to.
Putting relationships at risk, and your health at risk by absorbing yourself in your work, will not only increase your chances of poor health, but it will mean that when retirement does come around you may not have the physical ability or the company to spend it the way you always dreamed of.
As Tim Ferris states, “What is the pot of gold that justifies spending the best years of your life hoping for happiness in the last?”
Believing we ‘are’ our job is becoming a national delusional disease. Most places of work call for us to put aside our true selves and simply ‘be’ the part that we get paid for. But at what price?
What I want to see more of from everyone, is conversations that don’t start about work, and lives that don’t put work as the centrepiece.
As humans, we are more interesting and more capable of great things without a title to give us the strength and power to do it.