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Work identity - 6 things you should do to stop confusing who you ARE with what you DO

Updated: Feb 5

Green and yellow chameleon on someone's fingers

The other day someone said it to me: 'I'm trying really hard to push the idea away that my job is my identity.'

You see ESPECIALLY when you've been working for a long time, made long hours, arranged your life around your work, your work may SEEM like your identity. What you DO becomes who you ARE.

If you work as a project manager you ARE a project manager. If you work as a marketing manager you ARE a marketing manager.

This becomes a real problem when you're not happy in that role. When one day you look up and say to yourself 'what am I even doing here!'

Because if you don't like what you're doing, do you still like the person you've become?

Enmeshment, is what psychologists call it. When your work is so rolled up into who you are that you BECOME your work. So, what are some clear signs that this might be happening to you:

  • When you spend the majority of your time working - and people are starting to comment on it

  • When you introduce yourself with your job title

  • When you have real trouble picking up an activity or a hobby just because you like doing it. Just for fun.

  • If you find yourself thinking about work all the time

So, what to do?

Do something you love - When I work with women one of the first things I say to them is this: Go and do something that you love doing. Nothing to do with work. Nothing that has to lead anywhere. Something that you enjoy doing. Something creative. Something just for you.

It's surprisingly hard for some!

Because - you know - between work and kids and life admin, they believe there is hardly any time to do something else. Especially something as frivolous as doing something for themselves.

Create time in your schedule - Do you think you have no time? Is what you want to do SO monumentally big that you don't even get started?

Think again!

How much wasted time have you got in the day? How much time do you spend on social media? Watching TV?

Twenty minutes a day to get something started. To do something, just for you. It's all it takes.

Stop calling yourself by your job title - Instead of saying 'I'm a project manager' say 'I work as a project manager'.

Go on, try it! By saying it you create distance between who you ARE and what you DO.

Reconnect with what you used to love doing - It see it happen every time. That once you've created that time for yourself, you start remembering. You start thinking about who you used to be - you know, before you became what you do. You start remembering what you were dreaming of when you were young.

Find out about yourself - Reconnect with who you ARE (as opposed to what you do). What is important to you? What are you great at? What makes you happy?

Get curious - If you're unhappy where you are and want to do something else, go and explore what you DO want to do. Follow your curiosity.

Do you love writing? How do other people incorporate writing in their work? What jobs are there where you could do (more) writing? What would it pay? What would you do all day?

Were you always interested in travel? And making a difference in the world? What do other people do, who are involved in this? What organisations are out there that align with your values and what you feel strongly about? What is it like to work for an organisation like that?

Be that person - Go and immerse yourself! What would someone in that profession you're interested in do? What would she reaad? Which webinars and conferences would she attend? Who would she be talking to? How would she comment on other people's social media posts? Which groups would she belong to?

What I'm saying with all this is this.

For you to DO something different, you may need to BECOME someone different.

Or, to be more precise, for you to DO what you LOVE, you've got to become the person you want to be. Surround yourself with the people you want to be with. Live aligned to your values.

That's what I think anyway.


Tineke Tammes supports supports creative, multi-passionate, professional women in making successful career transitions with her Career Freedom coaching programme. Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.

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