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Your career is not you

Published:Wednesday | April 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Glenford Smith, Career Writer

Glenford Smith, Career Writer

A TRAGIC mistake many people make is to confuse being with doing. They believe what they do defines who they are as persons. They judge their value and worth by their job titles, salaries - even the size of their offices or the number of people reporting to them.

An extreme example of this grave error includes 12 year olds who commit suicide because they didn't pass the Grade Six Achievement Test. They believe that because they didn't do well, they were not worthwhile as human beings.

Perhaps you know someone who expected a promotion at work and was shattered when someone else got it. Disappointments like this will hurt, but they don't have to destroy your happiness, self-esteem or job satisfaction.

Or take, for instance, the employee who has just received a poor job evaluation, or got fired.

He thought all along that he was doing a great job and was expecting commendations and, perhaps, a bonus. Instead, he is devastated by the criticism of his work and his attitude. He is so crushed that he starts to doubt his ability, hate his job, resent his manager and takes out his frustration on his fellow employees. If he's fired, he may start to think of himself as a loser, a failure. He didn't realise that neither his performance nor career was his identity.

Many people who held high positions in respected companies, but were 'down-sized' may become depressed, anxious and even bitter with their former employers.

They may feel embarrassed when their friends ask them, 'So where are you?' or 'What are you doing with yourself?' Their sense of self and value as persons was inseparable from their careers; now, they don't know how to define themselves without an important-sounding job title. They fear what others will think of them if they answer truthfully, 'I'm out of a job right now', or 'I lost my job, and I'm now starting a small business which is really very challenging'.

Why is it critical to make the distinction between being and doing? The reason is that life is unpredictable and sometimes difficult. People get divorced, lose loved ones, get fired unjustly and get demoted - sometimes, despite doing the best they can. Also, how well you do is often dependent upon other people and circumstances outside your control.

It is unwise to base your sense of worth, happiness and enjoyment of life upon life's fluctuating fortunes.

This is particularly important for men who are socialised to link their manhood to their job status and income. You don't have to feel worthless if you've lost your job, if your spouse is earning more than you, or is more educated. Your career is not you.

Regardless of how you're doing, you can be someone outstanding. Be nice to people. Be loving to your family. Be committed to your faith if you have one. Be honourable. Be happy. Your career should not and does not define who you are as a person.

Glenford Smith is a motivational speaker and personal achievement strategist.