work talk wednesday: job and identity

by Joanna on October 5, 2011

after a hiatus last week, work talk wednesday is back.  today we’re talking about jobs and identity.

whether we like it or not, our jobs become a part of our identity. sometimes in how we define ourselves and at other times in how friends, family, strangers view us. when meeting someone for the first time, we are often asked “so, what do you do?” and when we answer this question we don’t tell them what we do in our free time, we tell them what we do for a living.

today i share three examples of how jobs intertwine with identity/perception and hope that you’ll share your experience or thoughts too.

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i wanted to be a teacher for as long as i can remember.  i dreamed of inspiring students, imparting wisdom on them, life-lessons shared through math, songs, my experiences and theirs.  i was going to build confidence and postitive attitudes.  i wanted to teach my students to be good people, to encourage them to follow their dreams and to dream big.  i was going to change the world one student at a time.

i taught for 3 months before realizing that teaching wasn’t a good fit for me.  while i loved the kids and was a fine teacher, the lesson planning and pressure i put on myself to do it all and be everything to everyone consumed me.  leaving teaching was one of the hardest decisions i ever made.  it was one of my biggest dreams but one i had to walk away from.

sometimes i still think of myself as a teacher.

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we moved to dc a week after college graduation so that mike could pursue a job on capitol hill.  after a brief period of networking, mike was offered the first job he interviewed for: staff assistant for a pennsylvania congressman.  mike loved the hustle and bustle of the hill, being at the center of it all.  after losing his job as a result of the 2010 election, mike found a job off the hill. last week i sent mike a link to belle‘s post about things she misses about being a hill staffer, and after reading it mike said he really related to some of her sentiments. it struck me when he noted that now when he tells people he lives in dc and they ask what he does, he’ll preface his answer with “i used to work on the hill and now i…” because there is just something about life on the hill. working on the hill tells the listener something about him.

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my mom owns a tanning salon and works there during the week.  she is very friendly with her customers and they often get to talking. when she mentions something about running the business, women reply “you own this place?” in disbelief and shock. even though, the customers are impressed it bothers my mom that this is the case. she thinks “what difference does it make?”

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here are just three examples of work intersecting with identity. do any of these sound familiar to you?  do you or does someone you know have a similar or different experience with their job and it’s impact on their identity.  how does it work for you?

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