Why We Should Not Allow Our Career to Define Our Identity

By Ana Sabo, Career Coach


Losing a job can be a disorientating and difficult experience, especially after someone has spent a long time with an organization. Many clients I have supported as a career coach have shared with me that they not only feel their routine and finances are impacted by their career transition, but also their sense of who they are. One of my clients said that they find it awkward not being able to introduce themselves as FirstName, LastName from Organization X. “How will they know who I am if I can’t tell them which company I am representing?”, they had shared.

It is true that we spend a lot of time at our jobs, and it’s undeniable our jobs become a big part of our lives; the organization, culture, our coworkers, and our leaders. However, reducing our sense of self to what we do and what organization we work with can lead to challenges in work and life.

Here is a list of ways to support a multi-faceted sense of self while working and during a career transition.

  1. Explore your answers to these questions to connect you to a bigger sense of self.

Remember that your job is not who you are; it is merely what you do. By taking some time to ask ourselves the following questions, we can get more clarity on what truly makes us who we are:

After having gone through this self-exploration, you may find that 15+ years from now, it may not matter to you will how many extra hours you worked, or what titles you held.

  1. Step back from the tasks and responsibilities of your career efforts and assess the level to which your individual needs are being met or possibly compromised.

Identifying strongly with your job can make it hard to recognize when the situation you’re in is no longer suitable or healthy for you. Ignoring the red flags and failing to recognize when it’s time for a change can exacerbate the symptoms and effects of burnout. If you are spending all of your valuable energy at work (which might have turned from something you loved to something you dread), it’s possible that other areas of your life will have suffered too.

Putting effort into self-care, relationships and extracurriculars is always a good idea, no matter how busy work keeps us.

  1. Employment is often transitory and subject to change.

Although most of us are aware that life is filled with uncertainty, and the job market especially so, we still tend to believe we have full control over our circumstances. The truth is that we never know what the future might bring, and what events might transpire that will impact our current situation. Nothing is permanent, and life is full of surprises, both personal and professional.

  1. People won’t remember your job title, they will remember how you made them feel.

Think about your own experiences with other people. Sure, when you are describing a person you met with at work, through networking, or by receiving a service, the thought of their career might come up. However, we are more likely to remember how that person made us feel – did they greet us warmly? Were they supportive and collaborative? Our personality and character will likely leave a more lasting impression on someone else than our title.

  1. Having a good job or a successful career is not your only success.

Having a prestigious job or making more money is rarely a true measure of success. Real success most often comes from being able to invest in who we are as a person, how we impact people around us, doing something we love, and being able to make a change. This change doesn’t have to be on a global level, no – being able to step out of your own comfort zone, to overcome your anxieties, to find happiness will put you on the right path, the path of genuine success.


Maintaining separation between career and sense of self does not mean that you cannot be successful in the career you are in right now, or any potential new careers. It simply means something we all sometimes have a hard time with: creating boundaries. While it is important to cultivate a successful professional life, it is equally as important to allow other areas of your life to flourish.

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