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Redefine Your Identity

Publication: The Globe and Mail
Date: November 21, 2003

If you were asked to define yourself, chances are, you'd start by describing what you do for a living.

Our sense of identity and self-esteem is tightly woven into our work. We assess our self-worth based on how successful we are at our jobs and how others perceive and acknowledge our performance.

Yet what happens if we begin to feel less passionate, or even bored with what we do for a living? How do we go about restructuring our definition of "self" if we have always associated who we are with our work?

It's a dilemma that Gordon understands well. He became a lawyer because he thought that it would be a "marketable profession." Gordon (not his real name) admits that his entire life has been dominated by decisions made purely from a place of logic -- what he thinks he should do.

While the practice of law has been an important way for Gordon to define himself, he admits quite candidly that he absolutely hates being a lawyer. In fact, he has always hated it. He says he's at a point now, some 10 years later, where serving burgers or coffee is looking good -- not because it is any less important than being a lawyer, but because doing anything -- absolutely anything -- else would be better than pushing paper and reading contracts at his desk. When you ask Gordon to describe his interests, and his likes and dislikes, he looks completely lost and has trouble remembering the activities he once enjoyed doing.

Gordon was recently diagnosed with clinical depression. He doesn't sleep well and feels lethargic and numb most of the time, making it even more difficult for him to figure out how to get out of this rut.

Gordon is scared. He has seen several career counsellors in the past five years, but hasn't been able to leave the profession that he has built his life around. Gordon has become so skilled at rationalizing what he does in order to be able to function in a job he hates, that he has successfully disconnected from feeling much of anything any more.

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