Work is Not Your Identity, But an Extension of It

Picture this: You have a dream of being an entrepreneur, working for a startup, and rising to the corporate ranks. You succeed for a long time, put work ahead of your health, family, relationships, finances, and make tremendous sacrifices for one pillar of your life. 

All of a sudden, when these efforts, solely diversified in one basket of your life go bust, it can bring you/us down quickly.

As a young professional, you’re surrounded by the pressure to succeed. Everyone around you is focused on their career, and work starts to become synonymous with self-worth. Many of us know this mindset isn’t right, but we just can’t seem to stop believing it. Unfortunately, it begins to take a toll on our self-esteem and mental health. 

In a recent discussion on Clubhouse with Dan Begrer, former CEO of Social Tables, and a few others, we talked about how socially ingrained this phenomenon is in us. Workplace culture plays a disproportionately large role in how we ascribe value to ourselves, as the COVID-19 pandemic has proven. Brandon Green, entrepreneur and former founder of Keller Williams Capital Properties, pointed out that for many of us, working remotely has made us feel lost; without going into the office, we were stripped of who we are and where we belong. But, home and belonging never equates to a place. Learning to separate work from your value is a challenging, involved process. It doesn’t happen overnight––it takes reflection, honesty, and time. 

My Journey to Tease Apart Work from Purpose

Work was very important to me from a young age. My top priorities were to succeed, prove myself, and ensure my efforts were noticed by people around me. When I didn’t succeed, all my confidence and identity crumbled.

I knew that I had to stop equating work with my value. I knew that I was so much more than just my work. I knew I had to do some inward thinking. 

To truly understand who I was outside of achievement, I had to lean in and dig into work that felt purposeful and left me feeling content. My definition of “purposeful” has evolved over the years as I’ve clarified my “why.” A “why” guides our life’s fulfillment, it’s a muscle that gets stronger overtime. It’s a foundation to build upon and invest in over time, it’s not re-created.

I began to understand my purpose as I completed Simon Sinek’s course, read books on fulfillment like Man’s Search for Meaning, and went through Rich’s One Word and brand foundation process. All of these experiences helped give light to why I wake up in the morning. 

I’ve learned that I am an extension of everything I do. My core purpose and “why” comes out in everything I do, from how I treat my relationships, help clients find their path, find my own path in my fitness and nutrition journey, and seek out learning. 

My pathfinding purpose is at the core of who I am. There are other components, too, like my desire to help others discover themselves and ask the hard questions so they can be more intentional about their future.

Pathfinding is brought into everything I do; it is my core value, and seeps into every element of who I am, into the way I move through the world and the way I run my company. 

Knowing that my success or failure is not the only thing people value about me gives me the confidence to continue plowing forward. I see myself as a whole person, work aside. When I recognize my purpose as it extends into all areas of my life, I feel as if I’m standing on sturdier ground. This clarification of purpose has been a mental framework for my decision making processes across all areas of my life.

Separating Your Value from Your Work

Young professionals spend so much time chasing these elusive brand names for our resume, getting the next promotion, and moving up this corporate ladder, or starting their business but for what?

To be noticed as good enough, smart enough, successful enough? “Enough” as a scale will never allow you to reach success and fulfillment. It’s an unattainable measurement. Toss out the word from your vocabulary entirely.

Instead, we need to take a step back and ask, “Are we doing this for our true self? Does this fully align with who I am and what I’m doing, or is it for external validation?” Comparing yourself against others is a game that only has one outcome: not feeling good enough. Instead, we have to start comparing ourselves to a different person: who we were yesterday.

Final Thoughts

It’s time to take a hard look in the mirror. Stop the never-ending cycle of seeking out external rewards and short-term dopamine hits, achieving them, and then setting new ones. It’s not sustainable, and it only leads to disappointment.

Thinking about who you are and what meaning and fulfillment means to you is much easier to do when you’re young. As you get older, you’re faced with trying to reconfigure hard variables and values in the middle of a marriage, or in the corner office of your well-paying job. 

To find your path, you need to identify what fulfills you now, and lead a life that aligns with those values, making micro-adjustments along the way.

For Young Professionals
Leah Walsh

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