Grappling With Identity: What to Do When You Are Your Job

04/04/2016 05:21 pm ET | Updated Apr 04, 2016

Something happened when my daughter was 4 months old. This was when the veil of craziness of having a newborn started to lift, when schedules kicked in, when life started to reflect a semblance of normalcy.

Looking in the mirror, beyond the cesarean scar and the flaccid skin, I did not know who was looking back. I was lost.


Who was I?

I was a stay-at-home mom and for the first time in my life, unemployed. I was not a manager or team lead. I was a mom -- a title I was not familiar with.

It didn't come with a paycheck, a security pass, a laptop, secure email access or employment perks. It didn't come with office suits, meetings or reports.

I decided to be a stay-at-home mom. It was all part of the GRAND plan. I would be home full time and return to work when she turned two. While I took part of the physical planning, I didn't take note of the emotional. I didn't think it would be that big a deal.

I struggled in my new role. I went through the motions of being a mum. I loved my child and enjoyed the immense amount of time I had with her. But deep down I was bitter. Naps and bedtimes created a painful void where I had to be with myself. With an emptiness I was not sure what to fill with.

Being a "nobody"

In a society that prides job titles, I was suddenly nobody.

Yes, I was doing the most important job in the world. But no number of motherhood quotes could make make me feel good about myself. It came from years of baggage about the true meaning of self-worth and happiness. This was my demon to fight.

You see, without my job, I didn't know who I was.

What was I passionate about? What did I know beyond my job?

They were questions that scared the hell out of me and that I had no answers to.

Do you remember how you started off at your first job?

A bounce in your step, wanting to make a difference. Wanting to try new ideas. Wanting to stand out.

What happens when the grind sets in?

Your job saps your energy for side projects and hobbies. It lulls you into a false sense of security. Most of us don't realize its happened until we are so removed from ourselves and what originally inspired us to do meaningful work in the first place.

New York Times bestseller Todd Duncan says this so beautifully in his book Time Traps:

As Children, we wanted to be something -- a ballplayer, a ballerina, a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a teacher. As teens we want to be someone. We were each the same something -- a student -- so what mattered most was acceptance, who we were seen to be. But then, sometime after high school, our wanting began to merge into a grander vision for our lives. We wanted to be something and someone. And at the heart of that vision was a job.

I am my job. What now?

It takes time and a lot of work to discover who you really are.

When you step out of that building and remove the cloak of your title, where do you go and what do you do?

Apart from Friday night drinks at the bar and TV binge sessions what do you look forward to?

How do you start to reclaim your identity when you are so out of touch with yourself?

Here's what helped me touch base with my inner self.

Ask the right questions

Often we ask questions that are tied to results or consequences.

  • Will this make me money?

  • Is this feasible in the long run?
  • Does this maximize returns for effort?
  • What industry is growing?
  • What looks good on my resume?
  • What jobs are hot in the market?
  • These questions don't help when it comes to connecting with your identity, your purpose or passion.

    Instead ask yourself:

    • What have you worked on something with such intense focus that you've lost track of time?

  • What do people come to you for help?
  • What have you always been questioning?
  • Look for clues. We don't see ourselves as how others see us. The best way to find out, is to ask. There was a little exercise we did back at my old job before the start of a meeting. Everyone writes their name on an empty card that gets passed around the table. Each person writes a quality or trait that they admire about the person. It's anonymous and when you get back your card you'll be surprised. Your clues are right there. Do this at work or with your circle of friends.

    Find a tribe. Find an online group or an interest group in your community. When you do that, contribute. Give what you can. You have more to offer than you know. Answer a question. Give encouragement. It might just help someone or make someone's day.

    Start side projects. Do something you always wanted to learn. Pick up a free online course. Search for a whole list of courses. See what whets your appetite. If it doesn't, move on. Pick something else. The idea is to start searching for what excites you when you have no clue as to what that is.

    Do something you fear. I'm not talking about bungee jumping or climbing a mountain. If you could tackle those, please do. I'm talking about things you can achieve on a day-to-day basis that you don't have to put off till a vacation. Trying a new cuisine, joining your local toastmasters group if you hate public speaking, taking a dance class if you think you're a klutz.

    Start small and work your way from there. The next time you start a conversation, ask someone 'what do you like to do?' instead of 'what do you do'. You are not your job and neither is that someone.

    Meera is a writer, mom and tad bit of a nerd who helps solopreneurs and bloggers find focus, build authority and stand out online. Want to add more hours to your day? Download her free list of 27 productivity tools and hacks to rock your side-hustle.