At this point in my life, I’m used to being asked “what do you do” as a conversation opener. I’m able to easily answer and depending on how much value the person places on journalism, my “I’m a writer” response usually garners a very specific reaction: either keen interest, or…not.
The latter usually stings a bit, honestly because I truly love what I do and have spent more than a decade charting a path to where I am now. I was never sure why a stranger’s opinion about my profession would matter, that is until a fellow network event-goer asked me in a friendly, “Who are you?” and before I started, they continued, “Don’t tell me what you do for a living.”
That part gave me serious pause. I honestly didn’t know what to say, and that sat with my for years. Who am I outside of my job? I’m still working on how to answer that honestly. Turns out, I’m not alone.
According to findings from 2019 study conducted by University of Hradec Králové (CZECH REPUBLIC), 53% of respondents said they found themselves in the stage of diffuse identity and moratorium, which essentially means they don’t who they are.
As the Harvard Business Review points out, psychologists use the term “enmeshment” to describe a situation where the boundaries between people become blurred, and individual identities lose importance. Often, individuals lose sight of themselves after focusing most of their energy on one extension of their lives. For many, that’s their career.
Although hard work is applauded in countries like the US, other parts of the world view workaholism as a personal failing.
I get it now.
“A particular confluence of high achievement, intense competitiveness, and culture of overwork has caught many in a perfect storm of career enmeshment and burnout,” Janna Koretz wrote in a 2019 piece about the topic. She is a a psychologist and the founder of Azimuth, which provides therapy focused on the unique challenges of individuals in high-pressure careers.
So how do you continue loving your career, fulfilling your ambition and not allowing it to consume your identity?
“Over the years, we’ve found that these issues interact in such complex ways with people’s identity, personality, and emotions that it often requires full-on psychological therapy to address them successfully,” Koretz wrote.
Find small activities to do outside of work
Between work and personal obligations, taking up a hobby may seem laughable. But it’s imperative to find something you love to spend time on outside of your career. But ease into it.
“You don’t have to commit to anything long term; the idea is to start exploring new things you might want to integrate into your life and your identity,” Koretz wrote. “For example, if you want to exercise more, don’t sign up for a marathon — just start walking to work or taking a gym break during lunch once or twice a week. Small changes like this are easier to stick with, and over time can result in a virtuous cycle of improvement and commitment.”
Re-form your community
It’s easy to lose sight of what your friends and family are doing on a regular basis when you’re busy trying to take over the world. But it’s imperative to maintain strong social connections to help balance your life outside of work.
“Reach out to friends and family to revitalize your social circles,” Koretz wrote. “You’ll end up having fun while also establishing a support network for yourself. Even just reaching out by text, email, or phone to catch up with people you haven’t spoken to in a while can help strengthen relationships. It doesn’t take much; recent research on adult friendships has shown that having just three to five close friends is associated with the highest levels of life satisfaction.”