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Jobs, Careers and Identity

Mondays here are for music (Music Monday) and Thursdays are for ideas (Thoughtful Thursday). Lately, my ideas have had to do with a failed relationship and the loss and doubt I felt because of it. Today is still about doubt, but it’s about my career and some doubt I’ve been feeling because of recent and potential future events.

A job or career can be a defining part of us. We spend almost a third of our life asleep and at least another quarter at work. Whenever we meet new people, they often ask, “What do you do?” And the answer forms a significant part of their idea of us. If we question our career choice, we’re often questioning part of our identity.

The week after my relationship ended, I had a frustrating and stressful few days at work. The frustration and stress were because of a project with misunderstood requirements, but my reaction probably had more to do with the relationship. There was an idea that I had some knowledge of and control over additional systems that were not part of the project, but were being included unnecessarily. I was not aware of the actual scope of the project, nor did I believe it was my responsibility to know the actual scope. A conversation with my manager revealed that he had an expectation that I would take control of my part of the project and be clear about the parts that weren’t mine, while I had no such expectation.

Given that I was stressed and frustrated and had been expected not to be, I began to wonder whether this was the job for me, and whether I was comfortable with expanded responsibilities. I know that I’d like to be paid and recognized for the work I do, which is usually more than my job level requires, but certainly not if it’s more than I can (or want to) handle.

As soon as I had doubts about my job, and combined with my doubts about my relationship and my ability to have a successful relationship, all kinds of thoughts were going through my head: What job, what woman, what life will make me happy? And what kinds of changes am I willing to make?

A year ago we had some major workforce reductions (i.e., mass firings) at work and I was pretty cool with things. I figured if I was fired I’d have a couple months of paid vacation and then I’d find a new job somewhere in town. We’re looking at some similar activity again in a month or so, and this time I don’t really know. I’ve already been looking at local job listings and not finding anything interesting. I ran into the same thing five years ago when I was actively looking. In the past when I’ve really been looking for something else, my response has been to move somewhere else. Am I ready for that now? I don’t know.

I had it in my head that I could move out to the Gulf Islands and run a bed and breakfast. I was not really able run my own business when the product was just my own abilities, but maybe when the product is a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, the result might be different. But part of this dream involved the beautiful woman who dumped me. Do I want to start living a dream that belonged partly to someone else (who makes me sad)?

I don’t expect to get fired any time soon, but if I do, I expect it will be as much of a struggle figuring out what to do next as it has been moving on from a failed relationship. A lot of my identity was attached to my relationship, and a lot of it is attached to my job. It seems I have a lot of questions and few answers, and I’m not sure I’m ready yet for the experience of finding the answers.

Note: I’m really having fun using this new Getty Images embed feature.