How Do You Define Yourself?
I finally finished creating my profile on LinkedIn after it sat dormant for years. I listed my novels, articles and blogs; the organization I have written for; and created a link to this blog.
We have these different media platforms available to us, and the list continues to grow. Personally, I have Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter (which I almost never use), YouTube, and recently opened a TikToc account that I don't know what to do with. They all center around two things: me personally and me professionally. They help define me to me and to the world.
I try, at the request of my family, to keep my personal and professional identities somewhat separate. I do this because I don't need trolls harassing me personally or my family. They have nothing to do with what I do or what I post. But trolls will be trolls; and, yes, there have been trolls. God bless the trolls.
My daughter-in-law has repeatedly asked me why I keep things public given the trolls who sometimes are so bored they decide to dig deep enough to find my personal account and give me a hard time. Because I write. I can't make a living writing if I keep things under wrap. And readers like to know a little bit about the personal lives of the authors they read. So I have to balance professional and personal carefully.
I bring this up because on LinkedIn, I came across a post by Leslie K. Wang, PhD, writing coach, author, and podcaster, that fascinated me in this area of self-definition. She writes, "I've noticed a lot of folks leaving academia are trying to shift their mindset from 'this job completely defines my identity and self-worth' to 'a job is just a job.'" She correctly states how it is helpful to find middle ground between job identity and self-identity outside of work.
She goes on to say, "How I frame things now: 'I seek to do meaningful work aligned with my core values that enhances, but doesn't define, my identity or self-worth.'" She is bang on! However, I posited to her followers that this isn't only in the realm of academia, but is a larger societal, generational issue.
Case in point, my father, who borders the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomer Generation, is a retired bookkeeper from a small town plumbing and heating establishment. All the years he worked there, if anyone asked, "Who are you?" he responded by stating what he did for a living. And he was satisfied with that answer. He got his personal identity from his job.
In general, that seems perfectly fine. In hindsight, no it wasn't. For one thing, once he retired, he no longer had a clear-cut definition of himself. For another, his self-definition did not include his hobbies or his family or his spiritual beliefs. His definition was lacking in his actual value as a human, as a husband, and as a father. His core values were not included in his definition of himself. That wasn't internally felt by him until his retirement.
My mother too when she retired from her job went through that struggle of figuring out who she is deep down. Her identity definition changed as her world changed.
How would I know since I have years ahead of me? When I got sick and lost the ability to do my normal things that I falsely believed defined me, I felt lost. For a long time. That struggle to know who I truly am led me to writing. But, I am not defined solely by being a writer. My lupus, as much as I hate it, forced me to examine myself deeply. I am grateful for that now.
Today, we have Milenials doing the "quiet quit" thing, and the Baby Boomers are scratching their heads about it. As Leslie K. Wang, PhD, pointed out, we have to be careful not to go too far the other way. Our jobs should have some importance in who we are or we will do mediocre work which will lead to mediocre self-perceptions. (I'm having trouble typing now as my daughter's cat is lying on my hands. I can't see the screen either. But the empathetic animal lover part of me, part of my identity, isn't going to kick her off.)
What does this all have to do with social media? Let me go back to my dad a moment. He doesn't have a LinkedIn account. He wouldn't know what to do with it. He doesn't have a Facebook identity. He doesn't have a clue how social media works, and he doesn't want to. He doesn't even have an email. Can you believe a person can function without an email account?
He does have an identity. Finally. If you asked him, "Who are you?" he still wouldn't know what to say. But, he doesn't stress about it. Deep down he knows. He doesn't have the words. Doesn't need to. He isn't trying to impress anyone anymore.
Who is he? He is a man, who follows Jesus, loves his wife, loves his kids, loves his grandkids more than his kids, who loves golf, and is finding reasons to be happy almost every day of his life. He loves to socialize (which made him great at his job), is always making new friends wherever he goes, and enjoys working on small projects here and there around the house. He's a great guy!
When he was working at a job, this is who he was then too. He just didn't know that was his identity along with being a bookkeeper. In his previous definition, he left out the things most important to him besides his job. Now, he evades the question by changing the subject to the things that are most important to him. He brags about his grandkids or shows off the latest set of golf clubs he is building for a family member or friend. He no longer has to justify his identity to anyone, not even himself.
Contrast that with younger generations, Generation X too, who are fixated on showing off some perfect self-identity to the world that is all about how great their private lives are when we all know that's a facade. We know because so are ours.
I think people who identify only with what they do for a living run the risk of losing the things, the people, most important to them. They don't realize what's important until its gone, right? This is the pitfall of being a workaholic. It doesn't have to be this way. We can teach each other better. After all, we have social media for that. (Embrace the sarcasm.)
Does your work define you? Does it fill you spiritually? Does your work reflect your values and beliefs?
If you have a question or comment, send me an email at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading!
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