How Does Your Job Make You Feel About Yourself?

A portrait seemed appropriate for this post but still feels awkward.
A portrait seemed appropriate for this post but still feels awkward.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how much my job influences my self-image.

I’ve always known that my job influences how others see me. I’m sure this happens for everyone but because of what I do, I think it happens to me more. Because I work with kids with cancer, lots of assumptions are made about the type of person I am. That I’m compassionate, friendly, hopeful, tender-hearted yet somehow thick skinned, and most importantly, that I’m kind.

It’s easy to make those assumptions about someone who works with sick kids. The most common thing I hear when I tell people what I do is, “Wow, I couldn’t do what you do.”

And somehow over the past several years, I’ve grown accustomed to people viewing me that way. I like that this is how people see me. Without having to actually prove that I’m any of those things, people believe that I am. I hope that I am those things. I’m certainly not all the time but I try.

But then I wonder, how much of how I feel about myself is a result of my work?

When I worked in a cubicle job that was just a job, I didn’t feel at all like what I did was a part of who I was. Sure, I liked that it paid the bills but my confidence, my self-image had very little to do with it. Perhaps it’s because now my work is so much more than a job for me, I am no longer able to separate my sense of self from my work.

As I transition from my current job into a job in a similar field, I’ve wondered what would have happened if I’d been transitioning back to a cubicle. Back to “just a job”. There’s nothing wrong with “just a job”. In fact, I’d say there’s some joy in being able to leave work at work. Sometimes I miss that. Would I have had an identity crisis? Who knows? I’m grateful to be paid to do work that is making a difference. It’s obviously an incredible feeling and not one that I want to give up.

I’ve tried to figure out how much of my self-image comes from my work these days. Could I put a percent on it? I’m not sure. 40% maybe? If you asked me to describe myself, my work would undoubtably be in the first sentence or two. The way my mind wanders to N and Archie when I’m at work, it wanders to the kids when I’m at home.

My job and my self-image have become intertwined. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Perhaps it’s true of all people with passion for what they do. But what I do know is that I like how others see me because of what I do, and I like how what I do makes me feel about myself. I’m 26 and I still want to change the world, just a little bit, if I can. I’m still that girl.

How much do you feel like your work is a part of you? Does it influence your self-image?

  • I totally understand what you mean about your self image coming from work. Sometimes I feel like my work defines me, and then I wonder if that is bad, good or just different. I work for a non-profit arts organization, and it is so different than other jobs my friends have. I’m not sure if this is something that comes more with non-profit, or jobs that work with long hours.

  • For you it’s a wonderful thing! For some of us, eh- not so much.

    I’m the answering phones, tweaking spreadsheets, cubicle girl. I got a teaching degree but couldn’t stand being in that field, and a lot of it had to do with not being able to separate my work from my personal life, so I gave it up. Now I don’t feel like anything I’m doing is necessarily meaningful. But as you said, it pays the bills, and it’s pretty much stress free.

    Work and careers are a funny thing. Right now, I’m the “just a job” girl. But who knows, maybe one day I’ll be the “career” girl. But I don’t even know if that is something that I want. Guess that’s what my twenties are for?

  • I think feeling fulfilled in your work affects how you feel about yourself in a huge way. I worked full time in a law office before I really got into designing more and I felt good about it, but once I realized what I really wanted to be doing, my anxiety about my job, my work ethic, and my overall self-worth went down until i got a part time job at a local design agency. Now I feel happy and like I’m “going somewhere”. Now just waiting to get full-time designing!
    I love this article- thanks for writing it!!

  • I used to get the same “I could never do that” when I worked as a Psych Rehab Worker helping individuals with a mental health diagnosis. It was not always easy but did kind of like when people would say that. Made me feel special (?), hard (?), better (?), not really sure what but it gave me a confidence boost and helped me to realize that what I was doing was good work because not everyone could do it. I have since quit working in that field not because of the work but for political/bureaucratic reasons. I am beyond grateful of what working with that population has taught me about me and the world around me.

  • V

    This is a really great topic to think about. I worked for many years in a job that drained me of my happiness, creativity and sometimes health. I was miserable. Your work (especially if it’s full time) takes up so much of your time and your life. I think it’s normal to be heavily affected by that.

    That is exactly why it is so important to strive to do what you love and what you are passionate about. It may not happen overnight, but it’s something I believe everyone should aim for.

    Nowadays, I am incredibly grateful to work as a mother, homemaker, and pursue my hobbies (blogging, photography, web design), which I am slowly turning into a profitable venture.

    Being a parent is the most difficult and rewarding job I’ve ever undertaken. I know some people don’t believe it’s a job, but then I don’t think those people have probably experienced the effort that goes into raising a child 24/7. I call it a job because I take it very seriously and work hard at being the best I can be.

    There was a time when I never thought I’d see beyond the walls of my cubical. I’m pleased to say that it’s possible if you put your mind to it and pursue your dreams at any cost.

    I wish everyone the same happiness and fulfillment I am fortunate enough to enjoy in my work.

    Never give up on your desire to change the world. I think it makes you a beautiful person. I really enjoyed your post.


    All the best
    V @ Life+1

  • My job definitely helps define me. When I try to describe myself (especially for thing like my about page or twitter bio) the first thing I usually say is that I’m a Software Developer. I think, like you said, there is a lot people can infer about me based on just that title and also I’m proud of my job and it’s what I do for quite a large part of my waking hours. It doesn’t 100% define me, I am a lot of things, but a big part of who I am is a Software Developer.

  • I think your job absolutely reflects your self image. right now I’m not happy with my job which is leading to stress and making my self worth lower. I know it probably shouldn’t but we spend 40+ hours at work so it carries over for sure!

  • I’ve really struggled with leaving teaching and becoming a library assistant. Before, when I was teaching my identity was tied up with my job. Probably to the point it was a detriment for the rest of my life areas. Now I struggle with not having a super influential job, but am able to be more present in my family as a trade off.

  • This is definitely a question I ask myself often. My job isn’t saving lives. I’m not making anyone’s life better really. I work in social media so it’s not life saving.But it’s all encompassing. I work from home so home is work. It’s very hard to close that office door and be done for the day. I feel I have lost myself to an extent in work. I love what I do for the most part but I definitely think it has drained me of drive for a personal life.

  • When people hear that I’m a lobbyist, they form a pretty negative set of assumptions about me. So I try to deflect as much of that with humor as I can. My job suits me, is interesting, and I enjoy my work, but I don’t feel as though I’m defined by it. That may be because I reject the stereotype of “lobbyist”, though.

  • 1. You are gorgeous. I love this picture of you!
    2. I loved this post. I’m in a kind of in-between job right now, so I’m struggling with it from the sense of my work has nothing to do with my identity. This really made me think!

    I hope you’re having a beautiful day! xo

  • I think I try to put a lot on my plate because I don’t feel fulfilled in my job. I think I actually started my blog because I needed to do something that I love and enjoy because I don’t necessarily love or enjoy my cubicle job. I even want to decorate my cubicle so I don’t feel so blah here. I like that I can leave work at work. I use to be an Ophthalmic Assistant went to school and everything for it being part of helping someone see is amazing, but it wasn’t working for me. SO now I do photography, I blog, and I just live life. My job is just a job and I think I am trying to be okay with that. Loved your post.

  • People definitely seem to view me in a certain way when they find out what I do but find it difficult not allow their perceptions to shape how I view myself

  • I never felt fulfilled at a job and hated every job. I’ve had “just a jobs” and I have had “jobs that could have been a career” I have never been able to leave work at work, whether it was because of the mental abuse from the general public and/or clients which made me hate people (not really, but close) or the fact that I was on call 24/7 or the fact that I was bullied by management on what seemed like a daily basis (as if they were forcing me to quit, which I later did… long story). I’ve never felt defined by my job or let it tie into my self-worth. I know some do and that’s perfectly fine. Just not me. The only time that I’ve been fulfilled and actually happy is working for myself and having my own business, which is right now 🙂

  • I definitely get what you are saying about feeling like your work defines you. I actually can’t stand my current job and it makes me feel like less of a person and like I am wasting away my education. I know deep down that my job doesn’t make me less of a person, but sometimes it is hard to see past the job and remember that I can’t always let me work define me. It is definitely awesome that your job makes you feel like you are making the world a better place and gives you a good self-image… that is what a job should do for you!

  • I love this article. I hope when Im looking for a job I can find one that I both relate to and gives me pride. Im currently in grad school so I have a bit of time. If you don’t mind me asking what is it you do for the charity? It does sound like a job that would have some preconceived notions pushed on you.

  • I’m currently at a job that is “just a job.” I absolutely adore my job, but since I am in the non-profit sector, I am pretty job scared after a huge budget cut. I always intended on going back to school two years after undergrad, so I’m thankful that I will be back in school in a year and on my way towards my actual career.

    XX, SS || A Little Seersucker Sass

  • My “job” definitely defines me… I am a SAHM. That means I have to be selfless, patient, and kind… even when I don’t want to be. I definitely plan on getting back into my actual profession before I experience the mind f*&^ that is empty nest syndrome!

  • Not going to lie, I am envious of your job and your response to it! 🙂

    I work in a tiny cubicle, in a tiny office, with 4 other people. When I say it’s cramped, that may be the understatement of the year. I work at a VA hospital scheduling patients for radiology procedures. It involves a lot of research, chatting on the phone, a lot of being yelled at, and sometimes tears. (Sometimes mine, sometimes theirs.) When I can help make a patients anxiety level decrease by getting them in the next day, I feel GOOD. When they come to find me to tell me that their cancer is gone, I feel GOOD. I’ve helped them in just a tiny way, but it means a lot to them, and in return, it means a lot to me. Having said all of that, I feel like I could be doing So. Much. More. to help those who need it. I leave work at the day feeling exhausted, happy to be done with the work day, but frustrated that I am just a clerk.

    Enjoy your job, girlfriend. It’s OK. 🙂

  • I think in a lot of ways my job defines me, which is why I’m trying to get out of it. 🙂 Not for any reason other than I’m not passionate about my job anymore. I don’t like the way that I’m treated. I want to be in a job where I’m proud of what I do – no matter what it is. I will say, I’m having a really hard time deciding if I should take an entirely different career path though. Scary stuff!

  • Liza

    I work for a group home for kids with autism, so I get those same comments a lot- “you must be so kind, patient, I couldn’t do that work.” But the admiration I get from other people makes me feel bad, because most days I want to rip my hair out! I know I’m doing important work, and the job isn’t always terrible, and I always worry about the kids- I can’t leave work at work.

  • i love what i’m doing and for me, it’s not just a job but it’s also part of who i am. i think people see me as what they see me, apart from my job. i think it’s how i do my job is how people perception is formed about me.

  • Well I don’t have a job that I have to go out to and do, I am a mother and nanna and that is my job and I love it but there are times it leaves me feeling like I am not good enough but mostly I am happy with me

  • I still want to change the world too! I am still working on figuring out how I can make that happen!

  • I had this a lot when I worked in youth ministry. So many times people would have the same reactions that you have when I would talk about my job. “I could never work with teenagers. Good for you.” “You must be so fulfilled!” “You must be so patient!” Which… all of these things were true to an extent. I love teenagers. As for the being fulfilled and patient… it all depended on what day (or even what time of day) you talked to me. Personally, I didn’t like having my identity and my job being the same thing. But I think that’s also because I knew deep down it wasn’t what I was meant to do and I had a lot of other reasons for leaving ministry.. If my job was something I KNEW was what I should be doing, my view would probably be different. Right now, I like that my job and my identity are two different things. I feel more free to be myself because I don’t have people in the community seeing me all of the time and knowing me as “the youth minister.” I’m just Emily now.

  • alison haggart

    Hi Nadine , love your blog and have been reading regularly for a while. Life in the USA is different in so many ways from the UK , especially regarding healthcare. As a Scot it is difficult to understand the hardships that can be incurred under the US system . Although the National Health Service we have is by no means perfect , it is difficult for us to imagine that severity of illness could have a financial impact on the family concerned. Here, treatment is given on the basis of need , not ability to pay. A close friend recently suffered a brain haemorrhage while at work . She was transferred immediately to two hospitals and had platinum implants inserted the same day at an approximate cost of £20,000 for the implants alone , regardless of the 10 day hospital stay and transfer costs. A similar situation in the USA would have ruined their lives. Kind of getting off topic but just to say I am a nurse and it is not just what I do to earn a living but what I feel I am to my core. PS , you and your man are the sweetest and Archie is so yummy I coud eat him up, Love, Ali x

  • I don’t really feel like my job itself defines me. But my field sort of does. I’m a female chemical engineer and people always assume I’m really smart and work really hard. Which I am, and I do (sometimes) but my job doesn’t use the skills I learned in school and it more frequently tests my patience than my mind.

    I want to be the girl who lives for her work and loves it… someday hopefully.

  • honestly. i never thought about it until i left my job that was sucking the soul out of me for the job that let me change the world. i thought it was just work. and people just work. but… then i had this moment… when i realized that there was a part of me who, like you, just wanted to change the world. and i realized i could. because there’s a lot of work to be done in the world. and when i went back to “work”, it wasn’t the same. i was done. i couldn’t do it anymore.

    now, i’m busy busy busy. i make less money. way less money. i work much much much harder. but i get up with a sense of purpose. and that feels pretty good. even though its hard to explain what i do and people don’t really understand what i do. i know it’s something good and that’s all that matters to me.

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