Work For An Identity, Not A Job

How building your identity is the first step to realizing a successful career.

Good jobs give you a lot to brag about — The high salary, benefits and certainly the company’s name. After all, the likes of FAMANG maintain a status that makes their employees feel better about themselves than the general developers in the world. The hard truth is that holding a job at a top-tier tech company makes you want to feed off of their status in the world. Besides, you have your preconceived notion of professional success reinforced by family and friends’ constant compliments.

All this justifies giving your that your job is of the utmost importance for your identity. Or should there be more?

The concept of ‘enmeshment’ in psychology revolves around the blurring of boundaries between two people. The effect of this concept in the work context comes across when people blend their personal and professional lives. Many people are vulnerable to it because earning a living gives them an avenue to develop a purpose and confidence level.

This correlation may work well as long as your career is riding high. However, once you stake your identity with your job and root your self-esteem with its success, over-dependence on your performance can lead to a long work slump should you ever encounter the smallest failures. Consequently, it would be best if you learned to build an identity separate from your job.

The first step towards this is the realization that you are dispensable.

Coming to terms with the idea that you are an employee just as expendable as any other may seem like a recipe for explosive imposter syndrome, but it is not. The key to developing your identity as a professional is realizing that a job can be dispensable to you if you are dispensable to a company. This will motivate you to pursue your passions outside of work and build your personal brand as a professional, separate from your job. But remember, creating an identity has nothing to do with picking up a hobby.

It is a common misconception that taking time for yourself means starting something completely unrelated to your career. If you are a software developer with a passion for building, it doesn’t mean that you separate yourself from work and start doing yoga or learn to make kale salads; all it takes is getting involved in projects that separate you from your work, at your day job. Think along the lines of coding for fun, helping out aspiring developers on the internet and making tutorials or podcasts about the aspects of your profession that you like and dislike. Interestingly, these activities will soon replace work prioritization as a confidence supplement.

The second step is reconciling oneself to the idea that validation is not needed.

If you work at a company like Google, constant praise about your professional success from family and friends is something that you are probably accustomed to. Not surprisingly, human nature always drives us to seek more validation. If you start your own YouTube channel, you would want to share it with others, but try your hardest to resist the temptation! You are embarking on a journey of building an identity for yourself, making it incredibly important to give up the desire to be a model for vicarious reinforcement to others. Post your work to the world, but ignore the comments or turn them off your projects completely, at least initially. This will help you focus while ignoring the critics who could make you undermine the process.

Lastly, remember that your identity earns you success, not your job.

The brand you build for yourself will lead you to a happy and fulfilling life, while a job that becomes your whole life will most certainly not. Wrapping yourself in the aura of a well-known employer can feel like a safety net that sets you apart and protects you. This is not to say that identifying closely with your work is a grave misstep. Still, it can easily become one should your sensitivity to its success trigger paranoia about your performance.

Claim some time for yourself and create your own identity, partly to avoid a painful crisis of the same in the future and partly to recognize that you are much bigger than the company you work for.