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Is My Identity My Job Title?

By Erin Aldrich

We live in a society where people are often more concerned about what we do than who we are. If you don’t believe me, just think about how often you say something like, “Hi I am Erin Aldrich, Director of Metro Achievement Center” and then smile and pause expecting a similar sentence from the person standing across from you.

To constantly be identifying one’s self with a job title and place of work can take its toll. What if I don’t have a job or don’t have the position I want or am ashamed of where I work or work in what some people consider a lesser job? Since we often identify ourselves with our job, we can start to think our upward movement in a company is the same thing as an increase in our self-worth. Our value starts to become dependent on our position, making it easier to act in ways that might even go against our value systems.

For the past five years I have had the great privilege of getting to know hundreds of young professional women who volunteer weekly at Metro Achievement Center, each searching for happiness and fulfillment. Since these women are also constantly repeating their job title as what identifies them, they might easily begin to think that this is where happiness and fulfillment are to be found. But does this even make sense? Absolutely not!

Not many people stop to think about where happiness and fulfillment come from in the fast-paced world that we live in. Who has time after juggling work, friends, groceries, laundry, drinks with friends, and every once in a while cooking a meal? If we don’t take the time daily to reflect on what we want in life, why we want it, and how we strive to obtain it, it’s easy to fall into the habit of seeing the next promotion or the next pay raise as the key to happiness. If we keep identifying ourselves by our job titles, we limit our self-worth and potential for happiness. It would be very sad to allow our employers to dictate our worth and sense of fulfillment.

How serious are you about finding happiness and fulfillment? If you are serious about it, then I suggest you make time to reflect each day. People who reflect daily on their purpose and identity tend to be much happier. I don’t have any research to back this up, just years of observation. I encourage everyone to take time daily to think about the following questions:

What is the purpose of my life?

Am I trying to fulfill my purpose?

What is at the core of my identity?

Do I often remember this or do I define my worth based on other things?

What is most important to me?

Does the way I set my daily priorities allow me to make time for what is most important?

What are my values and beliefs?

Am I staying true to my values and beliefs?

As we reflect daily on these types of questions, it sets us on a path for success, happiness and fulfillment. 

And in a world where we hear and say many times a day, “Hi I am Erin Aldrich, Director of Metro Achievement Center” smile and pause, it is good to be able to remember while that is what I do, that is not who I am.


The Quest for Self-Identity

By Teresa Carale, MHI President

In one of the most riveting scenes in the musical Les Miserables, Javert apologizes to Jean Valjean (disguised as Monsieur Madeleine, the mayor of the town) for doubting his identity. He informs the mayor that they have caught the escaped criminal, Jean Valjean, and that he is awaiting trial. The real Jean Valjean faces a morally pivotal point, as the song “Who am I?” articulates: “If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned!” What should he do? The song continues, “Who am I? Can I condemn this man to slavery; pretend I do not feel his agony. This innocent who bears my face, who goes to judgment in my place…”

Many go about their daily lives trapped in what seems like a never-ending succession of actions. What should I do next? We often forget why we do these things in the first place. To lead rich, meaningful lives, we have to stop and ponder Jean Valjean’s fundamental question: Who am I? Self-identity is more than mere self-knowledge─of my likes and dislikes, my personality, my strengths and weaknesses. All of these things are important, but they do not define “who I am.” And that is why we allude to it as a quest─of short or long duration.

In the seminar “Resisting the Mentality of ‘Total Work’─in Search of a Fulfilling and Integrated Life,” Dr. Margarita Mooney talked about the danger of defining ourselves based on the product of our work, instead of the process of our work. “We live in the era of what philosopher Josef Pieper called the world of ‘total work’, in which our identity is so tied up with the product of our work that we forget to nurture our contemplative, joyful, and vulnerable sides.” There is wisdom in focusing on the process─how we do our work, and not only the product of our work.  The “how” reveals values, priorities, interpersonal relationships, one’s vision of the world.

Sometimes it helps to ask “what do I want written in my obituary?” That question speaks to who I want to be. And the answer to that question guides our quest for self-identity, and frames our actions and decisions accordingly─in our personal and professional lives, in our families, in society, in the world at large. “Who am I” determines how I speak, how I dress, how I relate to others, how I behave in the workplace and in social situations. There is integrity and the consequent interior peace when words, thoughts and actions are consistent with one’s identity. Authenticity is a quality that is valued in all situations, just as duplicity is decried.

It is worthwhile to embark or continue on this quest for self-identity. Only thus can we be effective protagonists in transforming the world and making it a better place.