Don’t Let Employment Define Your Identity

I remember my first layoff in 1996.

It was weird and traumatic.  I'd been let go before, I'd had temp assignments run out, but this was a case of everything just ended.  The company I worked for was gone, my co-workers scattered to the four winds, and I was out of a job.

I'd like to say that immunized me against future layoffs.  It didn't.  There's really something about your job just ending, and not because of anything you did – but because a company collapses, or runs out of money, or just decides to cut staff.  Your job is just gone.

In some cases, it feels like you're gone too.  You're not making money, not doing anything, and you don't feel like anyone.  Like it or not, we define a lot of ourselves by our jobs.

Something happened to me around my third or fourth layoff (I'm in Information Technology, this is par for the course).  I had ramped up my job search machine, had really perfected my resume and letters, and was getting a lot of interviews all over the country.  I was actually really jazzed and into the search.

Thats when one interviewer said to me, after I told him my tale and my quest for a new job that I really had my story down.  We shared a laugh over it as, by that time it really was like telling a story for me

That has had me thinking ever since, and it influenced a lot of my future career work – as you've seen in my writing here.

Over time the job searches have felt different because, a few years into my career (I'd say about 5-7 years), I was not defined by my job – my job was what I did.  When I lost my job, I just pretty much looked elsewhere to earn my keep and use my skills and do what I was good at.

Despite layoffs since then, that sense of dread and sense of person-less-ness had vanished because of that critical realization: I do what I do because of who I am.

At that rate, what was going to stop me?  No jobs in my state, then I move.  Skills not up to par, then I trained.  No opportunities at my experience level, find a place where it's appropriate or get more experience.

It's critical in your career – and in your life – to not be defined by your job.  If you let your job be a cornerstone of your identity – and many people do – then losing it leaves you lost.  Instead remember your job is a facet of your personality, where you earn your living and put some of your skills and interests to work.  Losing the job doesn't change you.

You'll be happier and survive troubling economic times when you remember who you are, as opposed to letting the job define your identity.