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5 Ways to be More Than Your Work Identity

by Preeti Thanigaivel   ·  3 years ago   ·  

We are more than just our work identity. But sometimes gets difficult to identify with anything else. Here’s a simple guide to help you out.


Before we get to the work identity part, picture this:

We spend almost 35% of our day at work, 30% is for sleep and rest while the remainder is spent eating, traveling, and personal care. This is usually an ideal day if you have a 5-day work week, and catch 8 hours of rest. 

Reality is, however, far from perfect. With working late hours, 6-day work weeks, and longer travel time, we center our lives around work. Now the added Work from Home (WFH) and remote working culture has cut out travel and increased the amount of time we spend working. More on that later.

Our job and the position we hold seeps into our personality and we define ourselves with it. It’s only natural. Our work becomes the defining aspect of our lives.

What do you do?

The answer to which is our occupation. ‘I am a <position> at <company name> in <location of office>’. That’s us, our identity these days. It’s the expected and accepted common reply. 

We define ourselves with our job because, through our jobs, we find recognition, status, a community with shared interests and goals, intellectual stimulation, accomplishment, wealth, and comfort. Our work gives us our place in the world.

However, our identity being only what we do for a living could not be further from the truth. 

Our identity is who we are and not just what we do?

We all have a dynamic ever-evolving identity which is multi-faceted and comes from our past experiences, our life achievements, our education, our nature and nurture, family, religion, language, culture and so on and so forth. 

Our identity is partly defined by our relationship with different factors and the people we interact with. And if we are defining ourselves just by what we do, we begin to lose touch with ourselves, who we are. We would only be a part of ourselves.

Question yourself:

  1. Do I talk about my job outside of the office? 
  2. Do I spend too much time in my workplace, beyond work hours and even on holidays?
  3. How much do I interact with my social circle? Not social media, but actual friends made over the years?
  4. Do  I engage in hobbies outside of work?
  5. What would I do if I could retire right now?

If you don’t like your answers to these questions, it’s an indication that it’s time to pause and initiate change in the way you identify yourself beyond your job.

Going beyond Work Identity
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

A Simple How-To Guide that helped us define our work identity

1. What is important to you?

What matters the most to YOU? Just begin listing it down. You could just write it down or even make a list on your phone. It can be a long running list or it can be short. This is just taking stock of all the things in your life like family, friends, health, career, children, so on, and prioritizing them based on what direction you would like to take going forward. 

This exercise would take some serious soul searching and honesty from your end. It is essentially mapping out your priorities and setting things in perspective in the NOW. With a perspective, you have a plan in hand. And things will not feel too overwhelming. 

It would be the first step in the right direction to refine your identity.

2. Look beyond the work identity

If we change jobs, get promoted, demoted, lose our job or even retire, we would be headed to a severe identity crisis – if we only define ourselves with our job. Yes, a job defines us greatly but not completely. Our jobs are finite whereas our identities are dynamic and robust. You HAVE TO claim back your identity to define yourself, who you are. A simple way of doing this is claiming back time for yourself. 

Never underestimate the power of ‘ME TIME’. Time you invest in yourself is always time well spent. Look to diversify your relationships and activities; in doing so you can build a more dynamic personality and identity. Like any investment, growth does not happen overnight, but with patience and by keeping at it. 

3. Start Small

Begin your journey in smaller, well known territory – hobbies and interests. If you have been meaning to get back to reading, start with a small book first. If you have been wanting to go on morning walks with your spouse, do that. 

The important thing is to start with the baby steps. Overtime, these little steps would help you travel great distances in creating your identity outside of work. Also, small changes help you stick with the plan. 

Doing what makes you happy helps you to identify better. It gives you a sense of achievement outside of work, thus helping you identify yourself better.

4. Set boundaries

At some point in time, we have all blurred the boundaries between work and life. It is often with our own hands that we tip the work-life balance scale in the favour of more work. This is because we carry our work home, talk about work at home, and just think of all the pending tasks and the long to-do list. Work will never end, that is the nature of work. What we need to do is manage our relationship with work. One way to do this is by setting clear boundaries between life and work. Once home, your responsibilities towards your family and yourself must be the priority and when at work, your work takes priority. 

Sure, there will be the exception where you will have to focus, which is alright as long as this remains the exception and not the norm. It is a challenge, especially if you are a workaholic, but like any challenge it must be overcome, for you to reclaim your time and your identity beyond work.

5. Be social

Reach out to old friends, make new ones, reconnect with your family – it’s actually fun and very stress relieving. Also, it helps in strengthening and expanding your network. Friendship leads to high levels of ‘life satisfaction’. Remember the time when, as kids, we would identify ourselves with our friends. Do you remember how amazing that felt?

We are, after all, social creatures. 

A Caution

You don’t have to live the Instagram Life. Redefining yourself is for YOU to feel good about yourself. Sure, you can post on Instagram, but don’t replace the pressure of work with the pressure of social media. 

A common belief is that focusing on yourself could waste time that you could have otherwise used to do some extra work. This is not true. In fact, focusing on yourself and being happy in your relationships and the things you do will help you perform better in your role. You will be more creative, more innovative and will have positive results to show for at work.

Not to mention, this can do wonders for your work-life balance.

You can’t do a good job

if a job is all you do

– Katie Thurmes

When you work towards maintaining an equilibrium between your professional and personal self, you will feel more wholesome. You will start to see the difference even if you make that 1% effort to maintain the balance. 

It is time for you to have the courage to expand yourself beyond your work, and create a better, holistic identity for yourself beyond work. After all, you are much much more than your designated label.

You are the only, unique person in this world.

You are more than your work identity.


Author : Preeti Thanigaivel

A professional with over 15 years of experience in the corporate world, Preeti writes about her experiences when it comes to career and productivity hacks. She started her career in real estate - transitioning from sales to marketing to copy-writing. As the co-founder of a content and marketing agency and the blog The Feel Good Moments, she writes on mental health, self-love, embracing body positivity and motivation. A mother to a little girl, she loves exploring and documenting the world through the eyes of her daughter and capturing feel-good moments a parent would cherish forever.

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