I've had an enlightening conversation on social media for the past couple of days. Someone I "know" through another friend, but have never met (I mention this only because I find it much easier to be brutally honest with people I don't really know - it's safer), is having problems with the fact that he isn't working. His spouse is working, and a lack or need of money has not been mentioned. The problem is that he has tied his self worth completely to his work.
Here is part of the discussion:
Him: "Part of the reason I work is because it's integral to my self-identity. Being home full-time simply does NOT suit me, I get up to all sorts of self-destructive stuff after a period of time if I don't have the 'stress' of an outside-the-home employment of some sort. It's necessary for my self-balance, basically."
He later in conversation: "For some of us, working is an integral part of our identities" and "My Dad was 'downsized' by a major company in the early 90's ... first time in his LIFE he'd been unemployed: he never recovered from the depression that hit him. Even though he went out and did find another job, it wasn't the same, and neither was he. And my Mom has talked with me about it."
This set off real bells for me because of my past experience. I've struggled hard with making other aspects of my life a priority before my career:
Me (after a couple of back and forth's): "Our culture tells us that our self worth is based on our work. But is this necessary or right? Are you your job, or are you YOU? I went to university for 9 years, got 2 degrees and worked as an archaeologist (off and on) from 1990 until I got pregnant in 2003. Archaeology itself is a hard row to hoe - male-centric, very physical, and VERY few jobs - only the lucky and tough survive. I did pretty well for 13 years. I loved it and my identity was very closely tied to this cool career. And I put in a LOT of time. I ran excavations, had employees, I was in the archaeological big leagues, really. However, having had 2 nervous breakdowns in the course of that career, not wanting my son to be raised by daycare, and knowing that I just couldn't handle full time work and a family, and my husband did not like me being gone for extended periods over the non-frozen months, I decided to focus on the important thing (family) and give up on the idea of a career as an archaeologist. I am now a glorified office assistant who helps a couple of other archaeologists write and illustrate reports. It was a very difficult thing to give up, and I struggled with it. I struggled to learn that my self-worth is NOT, and does not, and SHOULD NOT be tied to work. So, your argument that your self-worth is directly tied to your job - I understand it, but it's an excuse. If my self-worth was still tied to my career, I would have killed myself by now - quite literally. If I had tried to keep the career and the family, I would be hospitalized and divorced. You can choose to look at yourself as the wonderful soul you are - the caring friend (I've seen it on Facebook), a good spouse, a loving parent with talents and worth FAR beyond a job, or you can continue to rely on an external circumstance for your self worth."
The conversation continues, but this was, to me, the important part. You are worth more than your job - everyone is. Jobs give us purpose, a social outlet, a place to go other than home - which some people need, and others don't. But your job is not you.