How to Draw the Line Between What You Do and Who You Are
by Intelligent Change — 6 min read
What do you say when people ask you “who are you”? A psychologist? A doctor? A baker? An entrepreneur? A stay-at-home mother or father?
Our professional and personal identities are so intertwined that we often fail to differentiate between them. Add to this common prejudices about the majority of job titles that tend to shape the way our professional identities penetrate our private life personas.
While the lines between work and private life have been becoming more and more blurred in recent years, this problem expanded and started to affect our emotional well being with the rise of the remote working lifestyle.
Blurred lines have now become the new normal.
And while home offices bring a lot of benefits and convenience, they also deepen the conflict of identities, among other things. We’re here to pin down the particulars of what may currently seem incredibly complex.
Verbs vs Nouns
As psychology professor Art Markman suggested in his book Bring Your Brain to Work, we need to start thinking of our professional identities in terms of verbs instead of nouns.
We work our jobs (we bake, we heal, we teach), but we’re not our jobs.
The balance is hard to achieve, yet now we experience it more than ever: we type our work emails where we eat or sleep; our kids run around as we try to connect to a conference call; and our phones keep buzzing long after working hours are over.
It’s now more crucial than ever to detangle our personal identities from what we do for money.
I Want to Be an Astronaut!
The dreams about professions begin at an early age. Who hasn’t dreamt of becoming a famous pop-star, an astronaut, or something as random as a truck driver?
Our “natural predispositions”–or what we as adults consider as our “talents”–are often tied to who we are as people, and, throughout the course of growing up, we make decisions about our professional paths based on our knowledge about our traits and qualities.
Book worms study law or literature, while those good at cracking numbers enroll in economic or IT studies. Those seen as “good friends” and “listeners” might end up as psychologists or storytellers, while people who dream about making a change often find their path in the studies of politics.
However, it’s not usually long before reality strikes hard and we begin to question our decisions. That’s when we finally come to realize: we spend time on our hobbies because we enjoy them, but work is something else. No matter how much you love your job, there’s no way to be happy if there’s no break from it and if there’s no variety in your life.
We need balance in life. We are social beings with many roles and identities attached to our names, and they all want to come out and be seen.
So let us ask you once again: who are you?
The Adult Pacifier
While we’re already aware that the lines between personal and private life are becoming more and more blurry, it’s much more difficult to locate the exact reason why this is happening.
Some explanations involve the discussion about technology: does the extent to which phones and computers have penetrated our everyday life have something to do with the loss of boundaries?
A day without a smartphone usually feels like a day without a wallet or glasses. Not only do we use them to communicate with coworkers, but we also socialize, collaborate on projects, research information using millions of dedicated apps, and wind down.
A recent study suggests that phones give us a certain level of stress relief and psychological comfort. The participants in the study sought out their phones more often when they felt stressed, and it was very important that it was their phone, and not someone else’s. This way phones gained title of the adult pacifiers.
Over the recent years, tech devices such as phones, tablets and laptops have become so invaluable that employers hand them out like candy. The purpose of these devices is to keep us connected to our colleagues and clients at all times.
And while this is understandable in some cases, is it reasonable for corporate workers to be within reach 24/7?
It gets particularly messy for remote teams checking in to work from different time zones. As you close your laptop in the USA, your colleague from Australia starts messaging you in the group chat, and notifications about their work progress just keep popping up. Even if you consciously decide to ignore them, the awareness that something is going on is always somewhere in the back of your mind.
We’re all aware that this isn’t right, and, at the same time, we can’t imagine work without all these tech perks. So what is right?
Communicate, Yes, but What Exactly?
Even though we are all aware of the balance-infringing impact of non-stop online availability, little has been said about the potential mediation of this effect.
A study conducted at a Scandinavian telecommunications company revealed that receiving work-related phone calls and messages after hours did not affect the employees’ work-life balance so much, but it was associated with a stronger identification with the company. The reason behind such a non-standard research result was the fact that workers had the opportunity to talk to their supervisors about their family issues at all times. Supportive company culture and open communication with management are able to alleviate the negative effects of after-hour work-related communication.
This research opens the window of discussion about the benefits of working flexible hours and the importance of open communication about work-life balance.
It’s the 21st century. Technology is developing every second, but is it happening on the account of our happiness? Are we ready to emotionally and logistically follow up on our own species’ inventions and progress?
Redraw or Reinvent the Border?
When our parents and grandparents would come back home from work, no phones would be ringing, and no emails would be buzzing when they sat down to eat or go to bed. They struggled with a different set of challenges in their times.
However, thanks to the lack of technology, this border we keep on mentioning was much clearer: once they’d leave the office building, they wouldn’t go back until the next day.
Is the solution so simple for us? Is switching off your work phone and using separate emails and browsers for work and private life the best way to go? This rigid kind of management is how most people resolve and detach, and we’re not saying that it shouldn’t be an option, but…
Borders are already blurry in every sphere of our lives. That’s the common pitfall of our age. In their book, Fragmented Personality, genetics professor Dragan Svrakic and clinical psychologist Mirjana Divac explain that fragmentation and a lack of internal sense of boundaries are the 21st century’s new normal.
Redrawing the borders at all costs is an old-fashioned way of dealing with a new-age problem. Reinventing them is something else.
Never Stop Asking Yourself Who You Are
The answer will change over time, with different values, goals, life outlook, our community and places where we live. Still, some things will always be the same. What sticks with you no matter where you are and how you feel?
Be More Conscious About Your Day-to-Day Life
In the era of endless information and instant connection, consciousness and awareness are undervalued yet overly necessary states of mind for living an accomplished and satisfactory life.
Engage in mindful living, slow down, challenge yourself to be more present in every day in order to reconnect to your true self.
You Are Not Your Job, You DO Your Job
No matter how fun, humane, creative, or flattering your job position is, identifying yourself with it completely is unhealthy.
If your professional role is the first and last thing you have to say about yourself, what is left behind your job title? Remember: you need to be yourself in the first place. Start with identifying who you really are as a human being.
Set Healthy Boundaries
We need boundaries. We lack boundaries, yet we also crave them. We do need to know clearly where we end and where others–including our job– begin. Boundaries are not easy to set, but they do need to be your consciously made choices.
Setting a clear plan for the day; communicating openly with your supervisor if you feel overwhelmed with the workload; turning off your work phone (or switching to 'Do Not Disturb' mode); logging in to separate browsers (or using a separate laptop if you have it); making commitments to finish work at a certain time may set a good start for detangling yourself from your work and achieving a balance.
You need to know very well what you want to do and how to do it, and draw your lines where it feels comfortable for you.
Modern times require modern solutions. Black or white, on or off, good or bad: it’s not one opposite or the other–it’s finding your happy place in between.
It can be okay to bring your work/work-related communication home, but not on the account of your happiness. Communicate openly about your needs at work, seek support from your supervisors and team members, and whenever you feel like you’re losing your sense of self for the sake of work, search for two things: your personal statement (who you are part from what you do) and an inner “chalk” to draw some boundaries.