Does Our Profession Define Us?

America’s fixation on work as the centerpiece of identity is more than annoying. It’s outdated. And also stupid. Although there is obviously truth to the concept (we work a lot), I think it’s time we define ourselves in other ways we see fit for our identity, such as tying our “self” to our undying love for animals. Or our innate sense for travel. Or our chef-like knack for creating in-home exotic cuisine.

We have multiple identities — accountant, philanthropist, loyal husband, nurturing mother — so the fact that the stereotype of, “She’s in politics. She’s boring,” still stands, is sort of bothersome. Yes?

Working Is Good For The Soul, But So Are Other Things

Working gives us worth, which gives us value, which gives us self-esteem. High self-esteem is the foundation for literally everything we do — from conversing with a stranger to having the courage to ask for a raise to standing up for ourselves in a toxic relationship. All areas of our lives connect with one another, and work is an area obviously not excused from the overlap of the many life categories we fall into and balance.

My question is: Why aren’t we talking about other things that give us a sense of worth — like our passion for memoirs, our ability to make people laugh, or our talent for impersonating talk show hosts?

As much as we say we’re moving away from titles in the workplace, we still get insecure about what our LinkedIn heading reads in comparison to our peers.

So You Are Your Profession — Or Aren’t You?

In friend groups, we associate the individuals part of them as “the party one,” “the funny one,” “the smart one” and “the quiet one.”

In work settings, we do the same thing. “Jordan is the CEO. Everyone respects him.” Or, “Valerie is just a receptionist. Anyone can answer phones.”

Having a concrete title signifies importance, self-worth and purpose (or lack thereof) in the workplace. I understand this. But if we truly felt secure in the people we are — whether that title is Editor-in-chief, middle school janitor or stay-at-home-mom— would we feel the need to emphasize these titles — titles plastered on our foreheads by society, mind you — to everyone we meet?

I think not. It’s one thing to be genuinely curious about what other people do for a living. It’s another to stereotype, be envious or mock someone for a title they didn’t even give themselves. Why do we care so much about what people do for work? And moreover, why do we tie people’s professions to certain characteristics that we think they possess — at the workplace, in social settings, in their homes and beyond?

I think we could easily take the pressure off — of ourselves and the grouping of working professionals as a whole — if we simply cared less, or not at all, about what other people are doing to pay for their bills and their endless supply of Gucci sunglasses.

What good comes out of judging people, anyway? I read in an article talking about productivity that we only have so much energy in a day — the takeaway being don’t waste the allotted and precious energy that you do have on negative people or constant thoughts of worry and fear. Therefore, if we are wasting that set amount of energy on shit-talking someone we don’t know based on what they do or don’t do to make money, the only people we’re hurting is ourselves. And we look like jerks in the process.

The Inevitable Work/Life Balance Conundrum

Speaking of energy…I really thought we were on to something when the “Work/Life Balance” phrase was replaced with “Work/Life Integration.”

“The concept of conjoining our work lives with our personal lives instead of creating a hard separation of the two? Genius!”

Wrong.

All this did was confuse us. Especially remote workers. They never know when to turn it off.

A lot of people complain they don’t have the work/life balance they want. These are the same people who have demanding, full-time careers. How do any of us expect to have balance in our lives when the math doesn’t add up? I’m no mathematician, but I think I solved the equation of “we spend the majority of our waking hours at work” correctly.

If we had it our way (I’m talking to everyone who has to work a traditionally “normal” job to support themselves, their families and their lifestyles — so everyone except celebrities and the lucky trust-funders on the East Coast), we would work 3 days per week, and do whatever we wanted (aka anything but work) the remaining 4 days. This would be the closest thing to the afflictive phrase, “work/life balance,” which has never made, and never will make sense for those working professionals clocking in 40+ hours per week at the office.

Conclusion

If you’re feeling like your entire self is being swallowed by who you are at work, make time for the things in life you enjoy in addition to your work, like spending time with friends, drinking ridiculously good wine and working more on your relationship instead of slaving over work reports that are already finished.

Remembering — or rediscovering — who you are beyond the confines of the office — is a strange and wondrous journey. We have to be laughing with the people we love while we’re doing it if the whole point of living is, well, living.

Thanks for reading!

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ashley Alt

Ashley Alt

Life is better when we laugh. I write about the importance of mental health & believe our weirdness is what makes us great. https://ashleyalt.substack.com/