What I do is not who I am.
This was a major lesson I had to learn when I realized a career in K-12 education was not for me. For about eight years my very identity was tied up with the role I played as a teacher. Because I thought my teacher-self was a big part of who I was, every day that I felt I had poorly planned a lesson, done a bad job dealing with behaviors or simply not met the incredibly high standards I had for myself, I really suffered and experienced a lot of pain around the story I had created that “I am not good enough.”
I had forgotten that I am enough, no matter what job I do or how well I do that job. I say “forgotten” because we all come into this world simply knowing that we are enough exactly as we are.
There are several reasons why tying up your self-worth with something external like a job is so painful. Any time that something goes wrong in your job, you make a mistake, realize a job isn’t for you or even lose your job, your entire feeling of self-worth can be compromised, which creates a lot of unnecessary pain and heartache.
When we identify so strongly with external roles, we aren’t connecting with the deeper part of ourselves—what we could call our “soul” or “essence.”
This is why what we say after the statement “I am” is so powerful. For example, I used to say, “I am a teacher, daughter, sister and good friend.” Although all of those things were true, at my core I am intuitive, creative, compassionate and joyful. These qualities are not based on any external roles and don’t change over time.
When I became aware of how closely my identity was tied in with my work, I began to use a simple yet powerful mantra: Who I am is not what I do.
Any time I felt self-judgment or negative self-talk creep up, I repeated this mantra to myself. It was incredibly freeing because it allowed me to see that who I am is so much more than a job. The belief that I am enough despite my career status has made me so much happier!
Right now I am working three part-time jobs as a substitute teacher, legal assistant and Personal Care Assistant. Random, I know! The old me would have probably been depressed, believing that there was something wrong with me, a 27-year old successful college grad working part-time jobs and not interested in pursuing a career in any of them.
But because I know my self-worth is not tied to what I do, I am completely OK with myself. In fact, I am able to see the blessings that these part-time jobs bring. For example, I don’t have to take any work home with me which frees up my time and energy to pursue other interests and hobbies!
Are you over-identifying with your job? Have you discovered who you are at your core?
For me it was a really powerful, liberating experience!
Angela Syverson: My 20s have been an absolute whirlwind, and I hope that by sharing my story I show others that they aren’t alone! I have been ALL over the place, both literally and figuratively. I have lived in 3 different cities in the Midwest, as well as Spain, Chile and Vietnam. I started and ended my career as a teacher. I was engaged after a dramatic three-year relationship and then broke it off. I started out on a spiritual path of personal growth, and my life is headed in an entirely different direction than I had ever imagined. It’s exciting! I have had ups and downs, felt heartache and joy, but most importantly I have dedicated myself to figuring out who I really am and what I was put here to do.
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Ed: Sara Crolick