Your Job Does Not Define You

Once upon a time ago, I stumbled across a text post on Tumblr that I really wish I had saved. Actually, more than that I wish I had took a screen shot and then blown it up poster size so I would see it every single day. I don’t remember the exact wording but the idea was that we need to stop teaching young people that their success in life is determined primarily by their career. Furthermore, we need to stop teaching them that something is wrong if they don’t love their job.

The post then went on to suggest that we ought to be emphasizing that while some people find worth and meaning in their jobs, for other people their job is just a way to pay the bills and to hopefully have enough left over for the other things that matter, whether that’s spending time with family and friends, jetting off on exciting vacations, or just buying a video game or a book they were looking forward to. The post suggests that meaning in your life and fulfillment can come from places other than work. You don’t have to love your job, you can simply see it as a means to an end that helps support the other aspects of your life that you do love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this post lately because I’m kind of in a weird position with my work. My new job is slow starting and while I’m sure it will pick up I know there will be days where the repetitive office work just won’t feel very fulfilling. On the other hand, my job giving tours will allow me to get back to my theatre routes and do something I love but unfortunately with shifts being 1-3 hours at a time, I just can’t support myself on that.

Even with this contrast, these two positions still share a common thread: they’re not what I went to school for.

That’s what I think is so important about this post right now. So many people my age were told that if they work hard and go through college or university that they’d get a job right out of the gate in a field they loved. It’s simply not true for most people. While I do have friends who have been fortunate enough to launch their careers into the fields they studied, I have many more who are compromising, and much of them do not love the work they do. It’s not for lack of trying either. I wrote my heart into cover letters for jobs at shelters, mental health centres and other places that I felt reflected my educational background but for all of the paid positions I never even got an interview. There was simply too much competition and while I had the educational expertise, I did not have enough actual experience. So I turned back to what I did have experience in: hospitality.

First of all, let me just say that there is nothing wrong with the work I was doing. In fact, I enjoyed much of it and I think it really helped me grow as a professional but I knew it was missing some vital parts for me. I wanted my work to really help people in need, and while I could give directions to just about anything at Canada’s Wonderland from any part of the park, I didn’t feel like I was making a difference. I felt like I had failed.

The position had left me wondering what the point of post-secondary was. I’m sure lots of others have had these thoughts as well. And being in a job that seems disconnected from your studies can make you feel like a failure for not breaking into your own field. You worry about getting stuck in some position that you don’t love and that the rest of your life will mean nothing because of it.

This couldn’t be further from the case.

Some of the best people I know have been stuck in jobs they don’t love for decades now. Sure, some have opportunities to go out an get retrained and start over again but more often than not people stick with what they know. And there is nothing wrong with that. While it would be fantastic for everyone to love the job they’re in, it’s just not likely. Some people will get to love what they do, and if you’re one of those people I commend you. But if you’re not? I’m still rooting for you and I’m here to remind you that your work does not define your life. It doesn’t matter that you spend 40 hours there every week, there’s still many more hours to define yourself elsewhere.

You see, the thing the world has neglected to tell us is that there is so much more to being successful than work. Yes, you spend so much time learning and training for your eventual place as a cog in the machine but that does not mean what you do defines your life. We may be obsessed with asking people we’ve just met where they work and what they do but we also ask them a load of other important questions.

Are you married? Do you have any kids? Did you see the new Wonder Woman movie yet? Where are you going on vacation? What are you doing this weekend? Any plans for tonight? How was that concert you went to? Where’s that dress from?

Just to name a few.

You’ll notice these questions have nothing to do with work and yet they dig at things that make everyone’s lives more interesting. They are the bits and pieces that make us unique, even without our job title tacked on to us.

I’ve struggled with tying self-worth to my work for many, many years. I was a straight A student and a bit of a perfectionist when it came to anything I was working on. This kind of thing made me believe that success was tied to number grades or evaluations from my supervisors. It’s taken me a long time to accept that my job is not the be all to end all in my life. Even if I do end up in a position I don’t love for a while, I can push through knowing there is so much more in the world out there for me. I can still make a difference, I just have to do it in other ways.

Learning this lesson has really come from watching my mother. My mom has been a waitress for 20+ years, it’s hard work and she’s damn good at it but I’m positive that running around serving other people dinner isn’t the thing that makes her who she is. Instead, she’s found love and fulfillment as a mother, as an avid movie goer, and as someone who can claim they’ve been to Disney World fifteen times. Sounds like a pretty damn good life, even with years of working on her feet and dealing with difficult customers. I consider her one of the most successful people I know.

So if you’re feeling down about the work you’re doing maybe take some time to reflect on the other aspects of your life. For me, volunteering has become a connection to the work world that I thought I was going to be in. My hope is to one day move forward into a paid position but for now using my free time to help people suits me just fine without the pay check attached, that’s what my other jobs are for. Vacations and city adventures with friends and family are the things that define me more than work. I pride myself in being able to share my city with others and it’s something I truly love doing. For the most part, I don’t get paid for it, and more often than not I spend more money than intended, but it still enriches my life. You just have to pick out the thing in yours that does that for you.

It may be being a parent or a partner, it could be taking trips with the money you’ve saved after working your ass off, it could be pub nights with your coworkers, or a beautiful garden you’ve planted yourself. It could be your compassion for those in need, the way you help people in your life get through their own struggles, or it could be your the way your sense of humour lights up a room. It could actually be your job. Whatever it is, it is yours and no one should be able to take that value away from you, even if they don’t approve of the work you’re doing.

You are more than what you get paid to do.

Whether you love your job or you’re counting down the hours until your shift ends, remember that you are worth so much more than the number on your pay check and that you can go out and put your mark on this world even if it’s not through paid employment. Everyone’s path is different, don’t be afraid of your own.

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