A few years ago I attended a seminar taught by a retired executive. He was partner at a major investment bank, served as CEO of a large corporation, and worked in the white house. From a professional standpoint, he was highly successful. Using his own words, "I won the economic game."
However, his son was a drug addict for a period of time while he was rapidly rising through the corporate ranks. He was frustrated, angry, and powerless. He struggled for a long time. Eventually, he came to terms with himself. Gradually, he saw changes in his son.
The story has a happy ending. His son became clean and is doing well both professionally and personally today.
After sharing the personal story with us, the executive told us something very interesting — he told us that it was crucial to have an identity outside of work. He was on a fast track at a very young age. Work meant everything to him. As a result, he was not paying enough attention to his family. In the end, out of desperation, he took a leap of faith and started attending church. That’s where he found his second identity.
I’m not trying to convert anyone to become religious. There are many ways to establish additional identities outside of work. But, I think the message is clear and important: Don’t let your job define who you are.
When I was living in the Silicon Valley, whenever I met someone for the first time, the first question was almost always the same: "what do you do?" People wanted to figure out what I did to make a living as soon as they could.
During the first week in business school, the most common question was "what did you do before business school?". Then, people started to associate their classmates with labels such as "the McKinsey guy/gal", the "IT guy", the "banker", "the non-profit gal", etc.
People could label you in whatever ways they want. But, don’t use their opinions and labels to define who you are.
You’re much more than a banker, a consultant, a software developer, a PR specialist, a product manager, a marketing manager, etc.
You’re much more interesting, multi-faceted, interdisciplinary, and talented than people could possibly imagine.
Don’t be a slave to your own job, and let your job to define who you’re.