As an executive coach, I have numerous opportunities to assist my clients facing life and work transitions, career shifts, entrepreneurship, and retirement, among others.
Aside from these changes and economic challenges, people face the painful process of losing the core of their identity. Overnight, they cease being the CEO, CFO, Vice President, or General Manager. Shortly after, they find out that notwithstanding the many years of being recognized as such, they have lost their prestigious position and their identity.
As with all losses, it is tough to let go of the attachment, in this case, to their persona. Despite its high demands in time and effort, the status quo has also brought a sense of value, security, and status.
How many times have we heard the phrase “you are not what you do”? It is difficult to accept that premise in the world we live in, where high productivity and achievement are considered the epitome of success. Here, we are defined by what we do in response to our belief in doing more and producing more equals to being more.
Most successful people love their work; I do too. We all acknowledge that there is a fascinating mix of pleasurable feelings when the potential of success seduces us. For some, this behavior is so embedded that they find it difficult to savor pleasure in leisure moments without subconsciously experiencing guilt. The need to be connected to work 24/7 allows us to justify conduct that was not common a few years ago, such as dedicating hours to work on a family vacation or having a conference call while attending a dinner party.
When someone loses his job, he tries to reconnect as soon as possible with a position that will offer a similar or better identity. Frequently, people accept positions to fill the uncertainty rather than decide for a good fit with their interests.
Others need to forge a new identity and engage in a long and arduous process that requires courage and determination.
Then, inevitable question arrives, “What is my new identity? How could I define myself now?” Probably the right question to ask ought to be, “What is my true identity?”
It will start emerging when you start examining with an open heart your other human dimensions that are not part of your professional facet. What are the things that bring you joy, what do you enjoy doing and sharing, what are your passions, where do you focus your energy? It’s a process of discovering, understanding, and connecting with your authentic self.
What would happen if the search for our true identity were a continual quest in our lives and not a timely hunt in a state of fear and discouragement?
Let’s contemplate how we can start reevaluating the importance of the identity that our work requires from us.
Rather than placing our career at the center of our lives, we should give it the right spot among all that is meaningful to us. Wrapping our identity only with what we do will leave us empty-handed when our job ends, or our profession comes to a halt.