This post is part of a series where I share posts, articles, books, podcasts, and other such things that often come up in conversations with friends and clients. I am not affiliated with or being compensated for sharing any products that may be listed here.
"You are not the work you do; you are the person you are." ~ Toni Morrison
I can't recall the number of times that I have shared this article. Here are some thoughts that I have had based on conversations that have prompted me to share this. The link to the article is at the end of this post.
Through her experience working various jobs, Toni Morrison describes the importance of understanding that we are in fact not the work that we do in the world. When we overly identify with the role that we play, whether it be at work, in our relationships, with our hobbies, any role, really, we are aligning with something outside of ourselves that is impermanent, unreliable, and could change at any time. A role is simply a part that we play in life.
Think about it, have you or anyone that you know ever lost a job and had an identity crisis? How about a relationship? When we align our identities with roles that are outside of ourselves, like the things that we do in the world, we are relying on the external gaze of others in order to create internal definition, and definition is supposed to be unchanging: so, a sense of self that is reliant on the ever changing external world is unstable and untrue. How can we feel secure when the way that we perceive ourselves is on a foundation that could crumble with the opinion of another? A change in the social structure? The loss of the role that we perform?
Taking pride in the work that you do, the role that you play, is great and is totally healthy, and taking time to mourn a beloved shift in reality is important. But, allowing that work or role to define us, to become us, can be dangerous if the role is altered or taken away from us. We are all important and essential no matter the role that we perform in the world. We are meant to be here.
I think about this a lot in terms of capitalist culture. As part of a society that is structured in this way, we often align our identities with work because it benefits those who benefit from our labor. Think about it, if you align your identity with the role that you play at the office, you might feel obligated to uphold this image for the sake of the people that you work with, and you might not look for or take a position that would pay more or give you more time off. Your false identity might say, I can't leave this job because Joe and Pamela will miss me and they can't do it alone, or you might tell yourself that there is no way that they would hire me for that position, so I am not even going to apply. We have all done this. I know that I have. When we are looking at the big picture from the lens of the true self, we see what is important in the long term, It is important for me to make more money so that I can support my family and pursue all that I feel called to pursue in the world, so we apply for the job. Joe and Pamela are not a factor in this decision, nor are those 'not good enough' feelings that are projected onto us by the social hierarchy.
The true self is not limited by hierarchy, social structure, or capitalism. It is open to change because it is unchanging, secure, and eternal. When you identify with your inner truth, you will be able to thrive in all of the roles you play, unlimited by false definition and the gaze of others. You will be able to navigate the many things that need to be done, without limiting yourself to a false definition of yourself. You will be able to step into the role you are asked to play, or the role that you want to play, with ease.
Check out the 2017 article in The New Yorker: