The journey of self-discovery may take some time and definitely some commitment, but it comes down to this: We are a combination of our standards, ideals, values and beliefs.

FOR MANY PEOPLE, separating our identity from our career and vice versa is a challenge. We often hear people say, “I am an accountant,” or “I am a plumber,” or “I am a police officer,” etc. The truth is those answers aren’t who they are but what they do — whether they are passionate about it, do it for a living or both.

We need to shift our perspective so our identity isn’t mixed up with our career, which is a very common conundrum in the United States versus other parts of the world.

What You Do Vs. Who You Are (Is It Mixed Up?)

If someone asks you, “Who are you?” how would you answer? For most of us, the first answer that comes to mind is, “I am a ___________” — the blank conveniently filled with whatever your job title happens to be. Of course, that was not the question nor the answer to it because what we do isn’t who we are.

Even so, the two are often mixed up, leaving us and the person we are talking to confused. So, how do we know who we really are?

The journey of self-discovery may take some time and definitely some commitment, but it comes down to this: We are a combination of our standards, ideals, values and beliefs. It is not to say that what we do isn’t inextricably connected to who we are, but again, what we do is not who we are.

To some degree, nearly every one of us is performance-driven. “What we do,” along with our accomplishments in our chosen field, gives us value because it comes wrapped up in lots of positive attention. In many instances, living this way makes us feel out of balance because we are always looking for the next success and its accolades leave little time for ourselves and our personal lives.

On the other hand, “who we are” is focused on our principles — not “what we do.” When we are principle-driven, we see life differently, we are focused on using our talents alongside our values and allowing our principles to define us. Principle-driven individuals have a strong work ethic as well but live a balanced life with necessary boundaries to protect them as well as their relationships.

No More Pigeonholing (Knowing When to Shift)

Shifting our perspective around identity versus career is challenging but not impossible.

We can say no to pigeonholing and yes to moving in the direction of our true identity, passion and principles. It begins with mindfulness, being present in the present. It requires a focus on our values and principles. Lastly, it calls for us to reflect on our goals and consider how our actions are aligning with what is most important to us. Aligning our goals and actions allows us to connect with our true selves and lead a life of fulfillment and contentment.

How many of us have pigeonholed ourselves working at a job/career for several decades and suddenly realized it is no longer our thing?

When the realization comes, shifting to something new seems colossal, almost impossible. And yet, once we take the steps toward change, we can find freedom in a career change that promises greater job satisfaction.

Making a Positive Shift (Escaping the Trap)

One way of escaping the trap and making a positive shift is identifying what fills your cup, discovering your general disposition and acting accordingly. Take a personal inventory, identifying your skills, values and interests — whether related to your current position or not. List your successes in your current career, as a volunteer, in your family and elsewhere. From your inventory, you’ll see a pattern emerging and discover alternative positions that might just be a perfect fit.

For example, early on you may have said, “I want to be a graphic designer,” but now you have identified that you are a creative person who enjoys collaborations, working remotely and owning projects. Knowing that, you could make an easy move to say, becoming an interior designer, where you can still use your creativity while collaborating, owning your projects and working (mostly) remotely. What you do may change but who you are remains constant and ever-evolving.

Create a plan of action to make the change. You may need to rebrand yourself with a powerful personal statement. It may mean developing new skills or education. Consider shadowing, volunteering or interning in an area of interest to determine how it fits with your values, ideals and beliefs before you make your move.  Remember, the goal is a positive shift into a position that meets your needs and feeds who you truly are!

Moving Freely in Your Career (Doing What You Love Without Losing Your Identity)

The core of what you love doing and your contribution to the world is in how you go about it. You have the freedom to move freely within your career, shifting whenever needed without upending all you have accomplished to date.

Keep in mind, your career is only a part of your identity, not all of it. After all, you wouldn’t say “I’m a mom” and leave it at that. What you do in your position is part of your greater whole — your character, values and personality. For instance, if you are extroverted, social, creative and enjoy leading projects, you might become a film director, but later may decide to open a café. In the café, you can still be extroverted, social and creative, and lead the project.

As you shift your perspective, the goal is to move in your realm, with your principles and character intact, even if you chose to do something colossally different than you’ve ever done before.

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