We spend the bulk of our waking lives at work. Yep, when we are not sleeping, most of the time we are working. This factoid has never been more true than in today’s 24/7/365 world. It’s no wonder that most of us identify ourselves by what we do. When people ask us to share something about ourselves, more often than not, we share our title or the company we work for or the work we do.
Identifying ourselves by our jobs is not new but it is getting more press these days. Take the recent “retirement” of Andrew Luck for example. At age 29, his retirement from football is certainly not the same as the retirement that many baby boomers are entering into, but it has a number of similarities. Luck had been playing football for most of his life. As a result, in most people’s minds, his name had become synonymous with the sport that he has loved and suffered through. But is his identity limited to being a football player?
Interestingly, this question is something Luck himself has pondered. He is quoted as saying, “Football is what you do, but it’s not who you are. It’s a big part of who you are. Part of who you are is you’re a football player. It’s your profession.”
This quote hints that Luck (and many others) believe that we have greater purpose than simply our jobs. As much as we are identified by our professions, those roles are what we do, not who we are. Each of us is more than our work roles. But, who are we? What is our purpose apart from the work we do?
Now that Luck has retired from football, he is likely asking himself those questions, and millions of retirees are facing these same questions every day. “Now that I have retired, who am I?” When we stop working, there is no doubt that we lose a part of our selves, but increasingly, people feel that retirement marks the loss of much more. We devote so much of our time, energy and attention to work that we scarcely know what to do with ourselves when we are not working.
Retirement is often accompanied by fear and uncertainty. We typically think that the uncertainty is financial, but for many people, the greater fear is not related to money as much as it is related to having no sense of who they are apart from their jobs.
When people retire, they typically miss three key things from their day-to-day work lives — (1) a sense of camaraderie and connection, (2) acknowledgement and (3) structure. In addition to missing those specifics, retirement often leaves a void that is tough to fill, and that void is purpose and not having a clear sense of who we are without a job to define us.
In fact, this void is not experienced solely by retirees. Often when I ask senior leaders what they would do with extra time, they have no ideas. They will often say, “I don’t know who I am anymore or what I like to do.” Many of us feel we have no identity apart from the work that we do.
If you are starting to get depressed, don’t. I am about to offer some suggestions to combat this problem. We are all more than our jobs and our identities are far more complex than our titles. To get started figuring out who you are apart from your job, ask yourself the following questions:
- What did I enjoy doing when I was younger – before I was working full-time (hobby, sport, craft, etc.)?
- What am I curious about?
- What skill am I interested in learning?
- What projects have I been putting off?
- What am I passionate about?
- What motivates me?
When we ask ourselves these bigger questions, we are able to find bigger answers – answers that transcend a job or a role or a title – and get to the core of who we are separate and apart from what we do.