Think back to a time when you met someone new. Likely, you introduced yourself, shared what you do for a living and then inquired about what they do for a living. Asking what someone does is a reflex. It’s a habit. It’s what you do when networking or in most any social situations. This however can create a significant challenge. Love it or hate it, we are often defined by our jobs, professions and careers. What we do becomes who we are. For professionals on a clearly defined path, work is truly who they are and want to be known for. For everyone else, the idea of being defined by a career can feel suffocating. Especially if your career no longer feels like the right fit.
The line between self-identity and professional identity (i.e. brand) can become blurred and it is easy to become wrapped up in or even mummified by your professional identity. So what does this say about you, mean for you and how does this impact the all-important question of what’s next? Sometimes the answers to these questions have less to do with your own career aspirations and more to do with other’s expectations of you. Because you’ve done X for so long, how could you ever pursue Y? To pursue something new and exciting may feel like you failed or at a minimum disappointed them.
It is easy to get wrapped up in the expectations of others. An obligation to live up to an ideal that exists in your mind about what others think and expect of you likely has little basis in truth. It may seem hard to believe but other people are probably far more concerned with their own careers. The sooner you are able to let go of other’s expectations or opinions, the sooner you can move toward finding happiness on your own career path. When you feel stuck in a job or unfulfilled by your chosen career path, being defined solely by that career amplifies feelings of failure. The path out requires a commitment to growth and change.
Making the decision to evaluate what you really want and go after it is the easy part. From there, you will be able to uncover or return to your authenticate self. This will let you do two things: 1) determine if you are who you want to be and 2) identify where you should go from here. The key is asking yourself hard questions about where you are, where you want to be and where you thought you’d be. Are you caught up in how others perceive your chosen career path? Are you worried about losing yourself because for so long you’ve been defined by what you do even though that is not you?
Happiness doesn’t come from playing it safe and growth happens outside your comfort zone. So be ready to get uncomfortable. Evaluate your career based on where you want to be, not on where you thought you’d be. Let go of your fear of failure and accept that change is necessary and good. And remember, there is no shortage of opinions. Pay attention to the one that matters most—your own. Accepting that you know yourself best is the first step to changing how you see yourself and how you show up for others.