Who are you?

Your work doesn't define you

What is your identity?

For some people, their identity is fixed in their minds. While others consider their identity to be transient, it may even vary in the company of different people.

When it came to deciding a topic for this week’s newsletter, I went to my trusty notes app where I dump the ideas that come to me on a dog walk or at night before bed. Most of my ramblings make absolutely no sense in the light of day, but I was intrigued by the single sentence: “your job is not your identity.”

I have no idea what sparked this note, but I figured it would be a good topic to discuss in this week’s newsletter, so let’s go with it.

When you meet a new person (not that frequent on plague island, but it does happen sometimes), how do you initially introduce yourself? Name, age, possibly your location, swiftly followed by your job, and maybe if you are a parent or carer.

Conversely, how often do you ask/are asked “what do you do?” While there are lots of ways someone could technically reply to this, society has basically neccessitated a job-related answer.

Since we live in a world that puts a heavy onus on career progression and work in general, it’s no surprise that our job is often synonymous with our identities. I think this is even stronger for freelancers as we often work outside of traditional hours, and our efforts are directly proportionate to the outcomes.

So, for some people, their identity is defined by their work. Whether that’s a role they trained for since school or a position they transitioned into by accident, it’s still something that we consider inherently “us.”

Equally, many people find purpose in other areas of their life, be it their fitness pursuits or sexual identity. In essence, your identity is how you want others to perceive you, and as a result, this determines your community.

Online identities

With the rise of dating apps and social media bios, we’re forced to think about who we are and how we want people to see us. What we write in that little box could be the difference between meeting a soulmate or not. For example, back in the days of MySpace and Tumblr, it would be common to put your age in your bio. But now when I see it listed on a user’s Instagram or Twitter, it strikes me as odd. Unless your age is relevant (you’re a centennial marathon runner), then why does it matter? The number of years you’ve lived on this planet isn’t relevant, but boy did it seem critical to us back in 2006.

Those of us who consider our careers to be our identity, or at least a big part of it, are selling ourselves short. By boiling your identity down to a job, you are accepting that your soul purpose here is to earn money, or at least make other people money. Even if you get significant enjoyment out of your job, there are still days where you likely wish you could just close the inbox and fly to Bali.

Losing my identity

I learned the hard way about having my career define me when I was made redundant from a role I worked really hard for back in early 2018. I was proud to be one of the youngest and one of only a few female managers in the company, and even the car I drove was provided by my employer, meaning my job leaked into my everyday life. But one Monday, I went into the office as normal and left at 3 pm after being read an HR-issued letter and escorted from the building. Yes, there was a “10-day consultation period” but the damage was done, that was merely a formality.

I returned to the flat where we lived at the time and my whole world came crashing down. My entire identity operated around being a manager in this particular role and industry, having worked my way up over a period of time. The role was created for me, so being the only person to ever hold that job title made it even more unique to me.

Within a few days, however, I realised I was free. Not least free from an incredibly toxic workplace, but free to be whatever I wanted. I could go into another similar role - and eventually, I did, albeit on a temporary contract - and I never managed people again. But this new role was different, as I started to see it as a means of getting me to the next place I wanted to go which, at the time, was travelling South East Asia and Australia.

Then we became “backpackers” and, again, we saw the downsides of that identity, while also enjoying the wonderful experiences that travelling had to offer. We had many a discussion about the idea of ‘finding yourself’ and how you can fly to the other side of the world, but you can’t change what makes you inherently you. Your mental baggage goes with you wherever you go, it’s just a bit warmer and the panic attacks are more sweaty.

As usual, I don’t have a specific conclusion or fixed opinion on this subject. In some ways, I think there is no better way to learn about someone than to understand what they do for 40 hours a week, but equally what they do on a Sunday morning at 8 am might reveal just as much about what’s under the surface. It really is a transient thing.

What is your identity? Do you think your identity is ever-changing or fixed? Let me know over on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this tweet for a confidential chitchat.


📚 Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

A really unique debut that I can only really describe as both strange and intriguing. The protagonist Ada is ‘possessed’ by a number of spirits, and the story of her life is told through the perspective of these spirits. This is definitely magical realism, which I love, but it covers some very dark themes, so not for the faint-hearted.

📺 Gilmore Girls

Currently, on my 100th rewatch, this show never gets old.

📺 The Sopranos

A show from the same era, but one we’re experiencing for the first time. We started The Sopranos this week and we’re already hooked.

That’s all from me this week, see you next Wednesday morning for more musings about mental health and work culture in the online world.

Ellen x


Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

17 November: Christmas comes early

10 November: Does size matter?

5 November: Consistency is overrated

27 October: Winter is coming whether you like it or not

20 October: I got sick

13 October: This girl is me

6 October: Everything is awful… or is it?

29 September: That’s dope

22 September: Have a word with yourself

15 September: Running changed my life

8 September: Okay, boomer

25 August: Bridezilla returns