It’s actually a good thing if your job doesn’t define you

Karen Fratti
It’s actually a good thing if your job doesn’t define you

It’s a nearly perfect feeling when you actually love your job and feel fulfilled by the way you earn your paycheck. But even when you love what you do, it’s still risky to have too much of yourself tied up in your job. In fact, it’s kind of a good thing if your job doesn’t totally define you. And it’s hard not to let your career entirely define you since our culture has a way of making everyone feel like what they do for living has something to do with their self worth or personality — but it doesn’t. It’s not easy to break out of that mindset, though, especially when you’re in social circles or settings that end up being all about your job.

For some reason, we’re always talking about work.

It makes total sense that some of us feel like we have to love our jobs and claim them as some sort of identity. Historically, the way social classes have always broken down make it so that people are often classified by what they do. You know, the whole “white collar” and “blue collar” job thing. But just because the economy’s changed and social classes are somewhat more malleable doesn’t mean that we aren’t putting each other into little tiny boxes based on their career experience all the freaking time.

If you absolutely adore your job and are proud of it, you might not notice these conditions. But when you sort of hate what you do or just view it as a means to the end of paying rent and buying groceries, you definitely know what we’re talking about.

It’s not just that people are constantly asking you what you “do” at parties or family holiday gatherings. We have to write little biographies of ourselves all the time, and when we do, people tend to focus on the work part. Every social media site wants you to list your place of work or some creative way to describe the drudgery that is paid labor. We even have to do it on dating apps.

For sure, it’s good to know what kind of job someone has before date them, if only in terms of being able to figure out their schedule and if they’d be open to booty calls on weeknights. Because really, what we do for a living doesn’t always match our personalities. And sometimes the stereotypes of certain professions — like insurance reps are boring or callous and graphic designers are way laid back — aren’t always true. Just like any other stereotype, there are always (a lot of) exceptions. Kindergarten teachers can be dreadful people, too! The truth is, it’s as risky to tie your identity to your job as it is to assume things about people based on what they do for a living.

Your work and self worth are not the same thing.


It’s not just that it’s dangerous to judge other people based on their jobs, but it’s awful to judge yourself about your job. It’s OK to love your work and even dedicate a ton of time to your career (seriously, if it feels good, go for it). But you only bring whatever you already are to your career, for better or worse.

When you love your job and are at the top of your game, it can be hard to remember that you have other interests and hobbies. That you’re not just a badass manager but a badass best friend. If you don’t like your job or are somehow unsatisfied with it, your self-esteem can go right down the toilet when you start to think about your day job. It can make you feel fully useless in every other aspect of your life, too. Which is almost certainly not true, but that’s not easy to remember when you’re clocking in for work you don’t feel proud of or really care about.

Letting our jobs dictate our entire lives is dangerous, especially because they don’t last forever.

If you measure your value as human being by your job, what happens when you get laid off or decide in 10 years that it’s actually not everything you want out of life. What happens when you retire?

Stanford Medical School’s Mark Cullen did a survey of retired executives who had been really successful in their careers. They had it all: Money, status, all that good stuff. But as soon as they stopped going into the office, they felt completely worthless. Cullen told HuffPost, “The minute they stop, 20 or 25 years of accomplishments leak out. They feel they are nothing. They had no leisure skills.”

What’s the point of working your entire life if you don’t know how to properly relax and enjoy your non-work life when you’re older?

The trick is to find a work and life balance, which admittedly can be really hard. A lot of industries are super insular, so it might feel like all of your friends are also people you work with. If you freelance or do creative work, it can be exhausting, since there really is no such thing as a day off when there’s always a new project to start or brainstorm. It can be tough to find balance and not think of your job as an identity. But trust us: It’s worth the effort to pull it off. There’s a hella lot more to life than how you make your paycheck. And the next time you’re at a party or on a first date, ask them about their last vacation or favorite thing to do on a Sunday instead of their job title. You’ll have so much more fun.