It didn't take long to figure out life was a struggle without his powerful job.The words he used could simply be summarized as "bored." I mean who could blame him? He had spent 40 years, working over 80 hour weeks to build and grow his career and company.
The career he had worked so hard for certainly had produced fruit, and by fruit I mean money. On the other hand, it had taken a serious toll on his personal life. Multiple failed marriages, below average relationships with his children, few real friendships made up of substance and a common struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.
His professional identity was seemingly all that he had.
When I ask most people, "Who are you?" I typically get answers that go right to their professional title like; CEO, Accountant, Lawyer, Project Manager, CFO or Athlete, because people believe "I am what I do." There are a lot of reasons for this, but it boils down to the amount of time, energy, and effort we expend doing our jobs.
I don't want to leave you mistaken or confused. I am not saying you shouldn't work hard, have high standards, constantly strive for greatness and pour all your heart and soul into the work you do. Quite the opposite is true. If you want to achieve high levels of professional success you must do all these things, but know at some point it will come to an end. So, if your entire identity is wrapped up in your work, then what will you have when it's over?
If you forge your identity out of your profession you will lose your identity when the profession runs out.
Here are a few ways to ensure your job doesn't become your identity:
1. Be a servant leader.
Winston Churchill famously said "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give." Just this week on the Follow My Lead Podcast Marcel Schwantes said, "There is nothing soft about serving and impacting others at work."
Servant leadership begins with a mentality that you come to work not just for yourself but the serve and empower those around you. While it's easy to say, it's difficult to put into practice. It's also something that no matter how much you want to master it you will constantly be developing and evolving these skills throughout your career.
2. Be learning constantly.
There is no question the best leaders are learners. They seem to be surrounded by books and wake up early or stay up late not to watch TV but to learn. One of the best ways to ensure your job doesn't become your identity is to constantly be learning skills outside your direct work-related industry. It could things like; cooking, new workout styles, faith formation, sports, or learning a new language. If you are constantly stretching your mind, body, and spirit it will only help you be ready when your career lights go out.
3. Make your legacy about impact.
I love the example Oprah Winfrey gave at a recent commencement address, "The biggest reward in life isn't financial benefits. Those things are great but they don't fill up your life, only living a life of substance will. Maya Angelou taught me an incredible lesson. Your legacy is every life you touch." If your mindset as a leader is focused on making an impact through those you come into contact with, your identity will center around service (as opposed to your profession).
4. Don't allow your authority at work to go to your head.
Many companies are still structured in a hierarchical way. While I don't believe this is the best way, it's the reality of the world we live in. Having said that, just because you are higher up the food chain and have more control over daily decisions, doesn't mean you have higher powers than others. Great leaders know their responsibility and act accordingly.