Don’t let your job define who you are

When someone asks what you do, they might really be asking: Who are you?

David Fuller

Norm was a faller.

For three years, Norm fell big trees in the wilds of British Columbia. He was so good at his job that he could drop a tree exactly where he wanted and taught others to do the same.

Norm could have let his job define who he was and lived the hard-working, hard-living life of a logger, but he wanted something more, and that may have saved his life.

Sherry Gilbert is a school teacher. For over 25 years, she has been teaching kids like mine and yours how to read, write, socialize and behave.

Some parents might not really appreciate the fact that Sherry has wiped their kids’ snotty noses more often and spent more time with their child in a given year than they have.

So, often, when people want to know who we are, they ask us what we do. It’s as if what we do defines who we are. Because we don’t understand and haven’t defined our mission in life, we let the descriptive words of our occupation bind and restrict us.

Many times, we let our job descriptions limit what we’re capable of. We think that a leader, manager, journeyman, housewife or entrepreneur needs to look and act in certain ways. We believe that, because we have a certain type of career, we need to dress and act the part, even when we’re not at work.

I’m no different than you. In looking for a second family vehicle last year, I had certain expectations of colour, size and type of vehicle that would make a statement to my clients if they looked out their window when I drove up. Perhaps if I hadn’t let my job define who I was, I might have chosen differently.

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Having clarity about our purpose in life can be a very freeing concept. However, it can be difficult to ascertain. It’s those ageless questions: Why am I here? What am I meant to do? Is there meaning to life?

If we allow ourselves to be limited in answering what we do in our work, we might be driven to drink or depression.

To gain clarity about our purpose in life we need to ask three questions:

  • What do I do that really makes me happy or feel contentment?
  • What am I good at that others seem to struggle with?
  • What do I do that makes a difference in the lives of others?

In many cases, we might realize that what we do for work gives us the resources to fulfil our purpose. Perhaps our passions are filled by our volunteer work, our family life or our communities. These are good things.

However, if we were to let ourselves be limited by what we do in our jobs, our lives might seem boring – leaving us in despair.

The next time someone asks what you do, remember they might really be asking: Who are you? That’s a totally different question. And it evokes a very different answer!

Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award-winning business coach and a partner with Pivotleader Inc. Dave works with Norm Adams, who no longer falls trees for a living.  Email dave@pivotleader.com and tell him who you are! For interview requests, click here.


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