4 Ways to Build Your Identity Outside of Work

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In the grand scheme, it’s just a job.

Backpack on a girl not facing camera

It’s not uncommon in a world where businesses change lives (NB: Airbnb, Slack, Discovering Hands) to tie your personal identity so tightly to your career.

“Employment and personal identity are very closely intertwined,” writes Eva Selenko, Anne Mäkikangas and Christopher B. Stride, in the Journal of Organizational Behaviour. “In many social situations, one’s own employment provides a handy way to define and position oneself in relation to others.”

A study performed by the same team also outlines how losing said identifying job, or even the risk of losing it, can negatively impact your self-esteem and wellbeing. In short, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate yourself from your work self.

So what can you do to build yourself up outside the work context? Here’s our advice:


Redefine achievement and accomplishment

The idea of deriving self-worth from your 9-to-5 isn’t unreasonable in the slightest: you worked hard to get where you are in your career and you’re proud of every milestone you manage at work. If you’re that person, it’s even more important then that you consider achievements outside of a work context as valuable to your every day.

If you’ve tasked yourself with reading a particularly dense book, or promised yourself this would finally be the year you learn to make bread from scratch, realise the value in diversifying your personal skills and that all these things contribute to you growing as a person. Making a new friend is an achievement, as is being there for a long-time friend in a time of need.

Start that side hustle

A side hustle isn’t just a way to get out of your current job, it can also be a way to redefine your skills and capabilities outside of your current career context. It doesn’t have to be big (although it can be!), it’s more about proving to yourself that you are capable of achieving whatever you set your mind to outside of your job.

Limit work chatter at home

Find yourself talking endlessly at dinner about the goings on at the office? Time to stop. If you find it difficult to steer away from the subject of work at home, make a firm rule: you can only talk about work for half an hour after arriving home, for example. If your work life becomes your home life, then that’s just life, generally. And in order to have a strong sense of life outside of your workplace, it’s important to divide the two.

Expand your social circle beyond work

For the same reason as above, getting yourself firmly into a social circle that doesn’t descend into bitching chaos once you deep dive into Friday night drinks is a sure fire way of excluding your downtime from the clutches of your career-obsessed mind. Ever tried explaining the cringe-worthy ins and outs of your weird manager to an external person to be met with a, ‘I guess you had to be there’ response? Yeah, you need that opposition.

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