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What to Do if You Over-identify with Your Job


Who would you be without your job?

  1. Frankly, I don’t know and that scares me.
  2. I’d be lost and would question my place in the world.
  3. I’d be devastated for a bit, but would figure things out.
  4. I’d be the same Me I am with my job. It’s important to me but doesn’t define me or my self-worth.

I hope that every single one of you picked d (or even c).

But alas, I know that’s not likely.

So let's talk about attaching to your job to the point where it has become enmeshed in your identity.


Over-identifying with a job is common in U.S. work culture at large. It is even more prevalent in the social impact space.

When you work in service of a better world, you are expressing your values (which are a healthy core part of your identity) through your professional actions. This is wonderful and feels good!

Work in general is a place we can get recognition, praise, and personal satisfaction from using our talents. This is wonderful and feels good!

It only becomes an issue when your job creeps its way into your core identity. When you allow yourself to be reduced to a key defining thing instead of the expansive, multi-dimensional human that you are.

If you over-identify with your job, any change to the job itself represents an existential threat to who you are.

It’s not your fault if you’ve lost yourself in your work. Within the social impact space there is the baked in expectation that your job is what fulfills you and gives your life meaning.

It is no easy task to extract your identity from an enmeshment with a job. But there are some concrete things you can do as a starting point.

Don’t underestimate the power of introducing even a tiny sliver of space between your job and your identity.

Practical Ideas to Experiment With

Try a slight shift in language

The words we use matter. Often more than we might think. Instead of saying or thinking “I am a _________.” try shifting to “I do _________ for work.”

Choose a new mindset

One of the easiest ways to adopt any new mindset is with a statement that you repeat to yourself with some frequency.

For expanding your mindset around identity, try something like “I am a well-rounded person with talents to share in many areas.”

Set up a tiny bit of infrastructure so you remember to say or read it. For example, write it on a sticky note and put somewhere you encounter a few times a day (e.g., bathroom mirror), put it in a recurring calendar item, set a timer, etc.

Change the way you introduce yourself

When you are outside of work, change the way you introduce yourself to omit your job title and organization.

I am a patient advocate at Awesome Nonprofit. I work in the nonprofit health sector doing frontline client support.

I am Vice President of People at Prestigious Social Enterprise. I work in human resources at a social enterprise firm.

This shift fundamentally bothers some people. They feel resistance at the idea of even trying ONCE to introduce themselves in a new way. If that is you, I invite you to ask yourself why? No judgement, but what is it about saying your job title/org instead of a more general description is hard for you?

Make it visible

When you are ready, go one step further and make your language change visible wherever you have a professional profile online.

For example, change your LinkedIn profile tagline to be more general instead of defaulting to your job title and organization.

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