By Anja van den Berg
The line between work life and personal life is blurring. Job opportunities are scarce; job security even more so. A natural outcome of this unnatural situation is that people’s careers become their entire identity.
Dr Janna Koretz, a psychologist who specialises in the management of high-pressure careers, explains the reasons why the lines get blurred:
- The work culture in many high-pressure fields often rewards working longer hours with raises, prestige, and promotions. Spending more and more time in the office (or tethered to your corporate smartphone) is often the price you have to pay for a rapid rise through the firm.
When you engage in any concentrated activity for the vast majority of your waking hours, that activity will tend to become more and more central to your identity, even if only because it has displaced other activities and relationships with which you might identify.
- Specific careers or career achievements are often highly valued in an individual’s family or community. If your parents are both high achievers, they will probably have high expectations for your professional and financial achievements.
When career success is seen as the ultimate life goal, individuals can feel disconnected from their family and peers if they fail to (or merely choose not to) achieve a certain level of professional success. This fear of failure and isolation drives people to centre their lives on delivering what is expected of them. This intense focus and drive, however, forces their identities to become synonymous with their work.
- When high-pressure jobs are paired with a big paycheck, individuals can find themselves launched into a new socioeconomic class. It isn’t just homes, cars, vacations, and gadgets that you suddenly cannot live without. It’s also the socialite friends, the dinner parties, the charity galas.
Our identities are highly influenced by how we present ourselves to others. When someone forms an identity around wealth, achievement, and influence, they tie themselves to that high-paying career that got them there.
Constructing one’s identity tightly around a career is a risky move, says Dr Koretz.
“Companies and entire industries struggle and go under. Age discrimination can make it especially difficult for those in the mid to late stages of their career to find a suitable role in their field after a layoff.
“No matter how it happens, becoming disconnected from a career that forms the foundation of your identity can lead to bigger issues, such as depression, anxiety, substance use, and loneliness.”
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2019/12/what-happens-when-your-career-becomes-your-whole-identity