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Why Getting Your Identity From Your Work Is A Mistake

We spend on average 42% of our waking hours each week working.

So it makes sense that work is a huge part of how we self identify.

But American culture is obsessed with work – and it’s a problem.

What is the second question you ask when meeting someone for the first time?

“What do you do for a living?”

We instinctively tie identity to our work. We’re all looking for a box to put others (and ourselves) in.

But if we view what we do (and our businesses) as who we are, ultimately it will crush us. And today I want to share three reasons why.

Work Will Never Fully Satisfy You

I don’t believe that work should be simply a means to an end, a paycheck to collect.

Rather you should do work you love and make an impact in the world!

But also know that work (and your business) can never be the ultimate thing in your life – simply because it will let you down.

There will always be more to do.

New challenges await us around every turn. Someone is always out hustling, out innovating, and out selling us.

We can never “win” the game – simply because the game never ends.

In my own life I have seen many ups and downs with my business and the funny thing is…my happiness doesn’t seem to correlate with my success.

Take a look at this highly technical chart I made of my own income vs happiness over an 8 year span.

You’ll notice that initially my happiness grew along with my business revenue.

But something interesting happened in year 5. Revenue doubled but my happiness actually decreased slightly.

Then income grew again in year 6 but happiness dipped for a second straight year.

Income was flat in year 7 but my happiness dropped almost in half!

What in the world?!

This is just a classic example of when your work or business is seeing wonderful success you won’t automatically be proportionately happy. The two aren’t completely related.

Why?

Because work will never fully satisfy – it wasn’t meant to.

You Are More Than What You Do From 9-5

It might sound obvious at first but it bears spelling out clearly.

You are WAY more than what you do for work.

Yes you might contribute to society in amazing ways and have a huge impact – but that is only one small part of who you are as a person.

Here are some other things that you are beyond just what you do between the hours of 9 and 5. You are:

  • Your relationships (son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, friend, brother, sister)
  • Your personality
  • Your interests, passions, and skills
  • Created in the image of God who loves you

Yes, you may spend most of your time at work and so you think about it a lot. But to other people you are SO much more than what you do for a living.

Just last year on Father’s day my daughters wrote me little cards and listed out all the things they love about me.

I keep them in a drawer in my bed side table to encourage me and remind me of what really matters (i.e. why I work).

Here is just a sampling of that list: “I love you Daddy because…”

  • “You sing to me”
  • “You have lunch with me”
  • “You’re kind”
  • “You listen to me”
  • “You like Star Wars”
  • “You’re a good cooker of pancakes”
  • “You protect me”
  • “You’ll come to heaven with me”

None of those mention anything to do with my business.

Even though they know what Daddy does in his office and how it provides for them and their mom – it’s not the biggest thing on their mind when thinking about their Dad.

To those around you, you are MUCH more than your work.

I would encourage you to live with that reality in mind and keep your work and business in perspective.

Getting Your Identity From Your Work Is A Roller Coaster Ride

I think one of the biggest reasons getting your identity from your work is a mistake is because it makes life miserable.

It puts you on a roller coaster ride.

When things are going well, you feel great. When business is down (or work is challenging) you feel down.

Up and down. Round and round. It never stops and is pathetically predictable (at least in my life).

Tim Keller, one of my favorite authors, has this great quote:

When work is your identity, success goes to your head, and failure goes to your heart.

Basically when work becomes your identity you’ll fluctuate between two false personas.

Things are great = “I’m the man/woman!”

Things are bad = “I’m a failure”

Both of these conclusions take way too much credit.

When your work is going well – be thankful and enjoy the success. But don’t too much credit for it. There are a million factors to successful work, and many have nothing to do with you.

And the opposite is true too – when you fail, don’t worry – it’s not a reflection of you as a human. You still have value and worth.

You Are Not What You Do

You are not your work, your business, or your job.

Even if you do work that you love, that does not define you.

Functionally though we all struggle with this. I struggle with this.

The first step to freedom and joy in our work is to admit the struggle.

So, if you’re brave would you leave a comment below and let me know in what way you’ve struggled with finding your identity in your work? Let’s start a conversation and encourage each other!

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