Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is having a rough time, career-wise. He’s got a stable job, but it’s one he hates. At the same time, the career field he’d love to get into is one that is pretty unstable, with an over-saturated pool of employees and low pay for most. He feels stuck and is depressed with his current situation.

I found myself giving him advice that I’ve heard others say again and again. Don’t worry, you are not your job.

Screw. That.

What am I saying? Of course you’re your job. People say that to others who hate their jobs, but when you like you job? Your chest puffs up and you proudly say, “I’m a writer!” or “I’m a doctor!” or whatever you are. People only say you aren’t your job when talking to someone who hates their job.

It’s a stupid double standard, and one that only encourages complacency.

Now, I’m not saying you should hate yourself if you hate what you do every day. All I’m saying that that we need to stop justifying our career choices. Yes, when you get home at the end of the day, you’re also a parent or a runner or a model builder or a Glee fan or whatever else you do what you’re life. You aren’t just your job. But your job is part of who you are - and an important part at that.

Jobs give us experience that shapes how we think and what we do even outside of work. This is true whether you work as a garbage man or a chef at a five-star restaurant. If you don’t like your job, chances are that you don’t like how it’s shaping you either. And that’s a bad thing. A really bad thing.

You’re going to spend 40 hours per week at work over the course of your life. If you get two weeks of vacation, that’s 2000 hours per year. If you work from the time you graduate college (let’s say at age 22) to the time you retire (let’s say at age 65), that means that you’ll work 86,000 hours in your lifetime. That’s almost ten years, non-stop, no sleeping or potty breaks.


You probably will not spend more hours doing ANYTHING, other than maybe sleeping. How can that not be a defining factor of who you are? You wouldn’t spend 86,000 hours painting and then say, “Oh, but I’m not a painter. I paint, but that’s not who I am?”

We say you’re not your job to feel better about not liking our situation, but the truth is that it only hurts us in the end. Your job is who you are - so if you don’t like it, you absolutely need to be working to change that. Otherwise, you’re just making excuses.

So today, I say to my friend and to all of you: You are your job. How can I help you love who you are more? How can you help yourself? Let’s do this.

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  1. Farnoosh (Reply) on Wednesday 22, 2010

    Alli, you are one smart woman and at such a young age - I am so impressed. I wish I had this mindset when I was in my 20s….I never thought much about loving or hating my job so much as advancing and being that vision of success - and I was after it with an obsession you wouldn’t believe - or maybe you would, who knows :) ! - and when you turn that corner and realize what you say here so plainly, it’s scary - especially if you’ve wasted a long time in a job you don’t like. This is a huge topic and I am sure one that can generate conversation from anyone. The obligations versus the passions, the safe and secure choice versus the bold. We can see both sides but at least, you are telling us to be aware of how much time and energy goes into our jobs, whatever we decide to do about it. Brilliant, my dear Alli, you write so well and you articulated this point beautifully!

    • Allison (Reply) on Wednesday 22, 2010

      Thanks, Farnoosh! I think you bring up an excellent point that ambition can blind us to the fact that we’re not happy. I spend a lot of time on a project I didn’t love once because I was too stubborn to give up.

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