Anytime I meet a stranger or an acquaintance, I introduce myself using my professional identity. “Hello, I work as a PM at a startup.”And that’s it. It’s as if there’s nothing more to me than being a product manager at an early-stage startup. Hence, my conversations revolve only around tech, SaaS, etc. Though this is a standard conversation pattern, it got me thinking about why our identities are always closely tied to work and work only.
For most of us, detaching from our work identity isn’t easy. Work helps us escape other challenges that life throws at us. And while we are at work, there’s clarity on what we must do, which enables us to operate in auto-pilot mode most of the time. That’s one of the reasons we spend most of our adult lives working.
Nevertheless, the downside of using a single identity to define us is that we subconsciously limit ourselves from exploring other facets and achieving greatness.
What can we do about it?
For some of us who already have other hobbies that we are passionate about, doubling down on them could be a goal. For the rest of us who are yet to discover what else we are capable of, it’s crucial to plan our journey towards self-discovery.
Reclaim your time and create space
Most of us indeed use work to fill our free time. Though it’s alright when we have a tight schedule or the mind space to complete a task, overdoing it could push us to our limits. And that’s why it’s crucial to take healthy breaks and spend quality time with people we love. We can even use this time to resume a hobby we put on hold for a while.
Even if we don’t have a hobby, we can give ourselves a chance to explore something new when we consciously create space.
Be clear about what’s important to you
We don’t necessarily have to sit with a pen and paper or talk to a friend to figure out what’s important to us. If this works, great. Sometimes experimenting with different unexplored interests will subconsciously help develop clarity on our priorities in life. The important thing is to cultivate a space where we can go deep and figure out what we truly want and believe.
The path isn’t linear and is prone to trial and error.
Connect with people from different professions
Some of us find it uncomfortable to make friends with people whose professions are hard to relate to. But trust me, it’s a blessing in disguise. Striking up friendships with people who do not connect to our professional life encourages us to develop new nonwork interests and virtues. It can help us become fuller and more fascinating people with a refreshing outlook towards life.
Having said all this, it still freaks me out to challenge myself beyond my work identity and discover other interests. It’s as if I have to search for a new dimension of my identity which has not existed for years. But trust me, this journey is essential.
While identifying closely with our career isn’t necessarily bad, it makes us vulnerable to a painful identity crisis if we burnt out, are laid off, or retire. Hence, by claiming some time for ourselves and diversifying our activities and relationships, we can build a more balanced and robust identity in-line with our values.