Defined by Your Job?
My guess is this is happening to millions of people around the world as the CoronaVirus is disrupting supply chains, industries, companies, governments, and careers. So much is changing and will continue to change. If you were defined by your job, you are in for a major wakeup call.
Note: This post was originally published in September of 2014 and was updated in May of 2020.
This topic was brought about by Dustin McKissen, who wrote a post called If You Lose Your Job, Remember This. Dustin wrote about his father after losing his job:
My dad is also good at more than just building things—he is a good guy, with a good heart, and people love him. I love him. He is a great Grandpa.
But when he lost his job, he lost part of himself.
When you feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself, the search to find that missing piece can take you to some very dark places. It did for my dad, and much of the last 15 years have been hard on him, and the people that care about him.
My Own Father
My father was an economist for the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). In 1978, my father was handed a retirement package and was asked to leave. He was in his late 50s and was not ready to retire. Financially, my mother and father were fine. The retirement package kept my mother living well into her 80s.
However, the retirement package killed my father. It took another 15 years, but it killed him. His job defined his entire self-image. Dad had twice pursued a Ph.D. in economics, but each time a child came along, he put it aside. After he retired he pursued University teaching positions, he was always turned down as he did not have that Ph.D. in economics. He did not have the paper credentials.
He eventually landed a teaching position at York College in York, PA, but by that time, he was pretty beat up. His mental health declined, and that is what eventually killed him. His job defined him
During the holiday season of 1992, I ruptured the L4/L5 disc in my back. I decided to take three months of disability and let my back heal rather than be operated on. I do not like doctors with sharp implements.
While I was gone, IBM nearly went bankrupt. IBM discontinued the famous full employment pledge. Thousands of employees were given generous retirement packages to leave. Just like my father, who would pass away a few months later, this was a death sentence for many. They viewed themselves as IBMers. Their job defined their entire self-image.
When I returned to work in early April of 1993, I was clear. I had a moment of clarity while I was out on disability. I saw what was important to me, and it was not my job. My job did not define me.
My definition of myself was further reinforced by what I saw when I returned to IBM.
I then spent the following years wandering around IBM trying to find a place where I actually fit in. I never found that place.
How We Forget!
In 1999, IBM made major modifications to the pension plan. First, they converted my retirement account to a cash balance plan but later switched it back to a defined benefit plan minus some important features. My employer for the last 20+ years had lost my trust.5r4w
I left IBM on my terms in January of 2000 and went to work for a successful high-tech startup, Agere, which was acquired by Lucent. Then, in July of 2002, I had another moment of clarity: I had a near-fatal bicycle accident. I had a head-on collision with a Toyota Corolla, where our combined speeds exceeded 50 miles per hour. By the way, I lived!
The following year, I pursued getting my Texas High School Math teaching certificate. I taught high school math at an inner-city school for almost two years. I was very successful. It tore me up emotionally and physically.
When I left teaching, I was lost. I wrote a post on this called Dealing with that Directionless Feeling, which is found daily on Google search.
Ten years earlier, I became determined not to be defined by my job, but I was struggling…just like my father! The difference now was I wanted to be defined by my life purpose and not my job.
I served on the board of directors of Launch Pad Job Club from 2006 till 2018, and even to this day, I stay involved as a volunteer. So many of those who have been laid off struggle with the loss of self-image. Whether the job loss was involuntary like my father and fellow IBMers or voluntary like my departure from teaching. It still stinks!
I have to go back to the time when I returned to IBM and remind myself it is my choice on how I define myself.
In this time of a global pandemic, this is the time to re-evaluate just about everything. Dawn Graham, author of Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers — and Seize Success recently published an article on Forbes.com Here’s Why Career Switchers Have A Huge Advantage In This Job Market.
- Competition for job seekers has become fierce and will remain high even after the pandemic has resolved. If you don’t have a strategy to stand out, you’re sunk.
- The current online hiring system isn’t set up for selection. It’s set up for elimination.
- Switchers have an advantage in the current market because they already know they need to bypass the online path and create their own strategy to get in front of decision-makers.
If you are going make a career pivot then now is the time to do it.
Are you going to allow your job to define who you are?