What You Do For A Living Doesn’t Define Who You Are As A Person


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Times of high unemployment can be dangerous if we equate losing our job with losing our identity. It doesn’t have to be that way.

IfI asked you to define who you are right now, what would you say?

Many people have told me that they’re a teacher, or a doctor, or an accountant, or a grocery clerk.

They tell me they’re Susie’s mother or Sally’s husband or president of the local chess club.

Many times, statements of identity are tied to external associations. A job, a relationship, a social position.

Perhaps you’re reading this and wondering what the big deal is.


The big deal is exactly what every human being on the planet is experiencing right now, a shift in reality that changes all of their external associations in some way, shape, or form. Even if you’re still working, you’re still not allowed to visit friends or family or gather in groups. Maybe you started a new relationship that won’t survive the quarantine period. Maybe you’ve lost a job you’ve spent years working to establish.

Poof. Just like that.

You may be experiencing this now or perhaps you know someone who is. There’s an existential question of “Who am I without X?” Just insert whatever external association “X” has been for you.

The answer is simple: You are still you. But if you’re not quite sure what that means, you’re going to feel stress around it.

Anyone who’s ever worked with me in the past knows I am obsessive about two words: Identity and purpose. These core concepts are cornerstones to living a fulfilled life, yet many people never take the time to define them. That time is now.

If you’re feeling lost or confused about your future because of a layoff or a company closure, you’re in the same boat with millions of other people. Over 20 million U.S. residents have filed for unemployment in the past 4 weeks. But as any challenge in life does, this provides an opportunity.

Holocaust survivor, neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl discussed the term “Provisional Existence.” This is when someone is living an existence without a clear future or an obvious goal. It was a dangerous and depressing reality to live in for his fellow Holocaust prisoners. A complete uncertainty about if or when there would be a next phase of life, and how long it would last for. Many gave up psychologically due to the nebulous new nature of their reality and perished from an illness or sickness that their body was no longer equipped to handle.

In “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor also mentions how unemployment can cause a similar psychological affliction.

Lack of path, lack of purpose, lack of identity. Sound familiar?

If you’ve lost a job or are uncertain about your future, this is not the time to romanticize the past nor to lose hope for what’s to come. This is the time to fully step into the present and make a logical and conscious decision about how you’re going to proceed from here.

Take time to write out goals, your passions, your PURPOSE in life. Write out the things that you are grateful for every single day. Set tasks for yourself so you can feel accomplished on a regular basis. We must step on the accelerator, not the brakes.

What sort of impact do you want to have in your community or society? How can you provide help to those around you who need it even more? In what ways can you find meaning in contribution?

Meaning. Purpose.

These are crucial pieces of life that keep us getting up and moving forward every day. We must find and create them and then pursue them relentlessly.

It is natural to feel cast aside or less valuable to society in these confusing times. Particularly when phrases like “essential employee” are being used. Reality check: Everyone is essential.

Whether or not you’re a parent, imagine that your child comes up to you and asks if you love them.

“Of course” you answer.

“Why?” They press.

“Just because. There doesn’t have to be a reason. You are worthy of love just because you are you.”

Now ask yourself why you’re not giving yourself the same credence.

Everyone is essential.

Losing a job or being laid off or broken up with is something every single human on the planet has experienced at least once in their life. It does not define you. It does not change the qualities you possess. It doesn’t even discredit the work you’ve put in up until this point, because you have grown and evolved and learned from all of the lessons your experiences have taught you.

Anything you set out to start now is not from “step 1,” it is from the last step you just left elsewhere.

For all of us right now, the future is uncertain. Frankl’s provisional existence is creeping into many lives at varying degrees, they’re just not sure what to call it. For some, this is simply a minor inconvenience. For millions of others, this is a confusing and stressful time. It is part of the human condition to rely on a future and direction in order to feel hope and fulfillment. Something to work towards. Something to accomplish.

This is the very reason I focus so much on identity and purpose and mindset. These are things nobody can take away from you. Nobody can fire you from your identity. Nobody can break up with your purpose. These are the defining factors in your existence and in your legacy.

Now is your opportunity to work on getting abundantly clear on who you are and what your purpose in this life is, because no matter how uncertain the future may be, it is still there, and it is still coming.

The only question that remains, is what are you going to do with it?


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1 Comment

  1. Fazal Mayar on July 5, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    You are right James. I always thought i was a classy and funny dude . That wouldnt change if I was a firefighter or a computer geek. Thats who I am.

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