A Job Is Just A Job: On Being Who You Are

What do you do when you start hating your job?

When I first started my last job, I was excited. I loved it because I went out into the world and built relationships with people. I connected with them and talked about their goals and the pressures they faced. 

Then the job changed. The organization was restructured, and the nature of my duties changed. The job became tedious and mind-numbing. I began to dread going to work. So customarily, I started looking for another job. I thought finding a more exciting job with different duties would help. But the truth is that I made a critical error: defining myself by the occupation I hold.

I realize now that I suffer from what I believe to be a very American type of identity crisis. That is, a man is what he does for a living. A man is an engineer or police officer first, and all else falls behind that. And so I became whatever I was being paid to do. When I held a job as a sales representative, I defined myself as a salesman and, being that I wanted to be a valuable human being, I became the best salesman I knew how to be. The same holds for every other job that I held, whether it was the regional manager in charge of an international business expansion or a recruiter charged with finding the right people to take certain jobs. 

And that’s what created a chasm in myself. It took me too long to realize that I, as a human being, had a very frail sense of identity that could collapse at any moment. I couldn’t stand not being good at my job because, to me, if I was bad at my job then I was bad at the only thing that made me valuable in this world. And, being that jobs are always changing and that there’s no such thing as job security, it follows that where a man identifies himself by his job, a man is vulnerable to losing his purpose of existence at any moment.

What, then, is the solution? In what way can a man create a more stable identity for himself?

One way that I can think of is through his relationships and his accomplishments. If a man identifies himself as a husband, father, or a grandfather, his purpose and existence stand the test of time because these relationships do not change at a whim. A Nobel laureate will always be one, the same that a published author is one. Yet, each part of this identity requires a degree of significance—that is, to be somehow inexorably intertwined with something, to create irreversible change.

As it stands, there are very few such elements to my identity right now. Yes, I am my mother and father’s son, and I am my brother’s brother. It’s not fair to ignore that. But there comes a time in life when those identities—that of brother and son—take on much less significance. As a son grows older, he becomes less a son to his parents, the same that he becomes less a brother to his siblings. The inherent nature of these relationships can never be erased, but they surely do fade.

And so I realize now that I have no stable identity. At various points in my life, I could only say that I was whatever my occupation happened to be at that time. My identities have ranged from bakery salesman to regional business development manager. I can’t identify myself as a loving father—I have no children. I can’t say that I’m a caring husband—I have no wife. I can’t call myself a boyfriend—I have no girlfriend. I can’t even say that I’m a best friend—I have no friends who rely on me or whom I have deep, meaningful conversation with. This barren relational landscape exposes very starkly that I am, in short, insignificant. It doesn’t upset me much, though it does have me worried on many nights, during that short window of time where you’re losing control of your consciousness and slipping into sleep. 

It’s dangerous for the soul to have nothing to hang on to in this world, to have no stake in the ground or an anchor in the ocean. The crisis still remains for me as I’m sure that it does for many: who—and what—am I?