Why It’s Important To Unhook Your Ego From Your Job

From the desk of Lawrence M. Light,
Creator of eJobCoach.com

The most debilitating thing about being laid off (or fired, for that matter), aside from the very real loss of income, occurs when a person suddenly finds herself / himself cut off from a sense of their own worth – precisely because their sense of their own worth has been inextricably tied up in their having … holding … and performing … a job.

The first question one usually gets asked when someone first meets you is: “And what do you do?” That’s the occasion to gauge where on the ladder or social scale you stand. I had a friend, a perverse friend, who held a very good job as the Head of a Data Center for a large IT Operation, who used to tell people, just to watch their faces fall: “Oh, I’m a garbage man.”

And, truth to tell, many people who face the mirror in the morning, equate their worth with their job title: “I’m a Vice President … an accountant … a manager … a project manager … the Special Assistant to …” etc., etc., etc. … ad absurdum. Think of poor Kenneth Lay, who was so powerful as Chairman of Enron, if you remember them, now that he isn’t Chairman any more, and how his whole puffed-up persona was linked to that role.  Then contrast that with Steve Jobs, who maintained his sense of self-worth even after he had to leave Apple the first time, who came back again and made his true worth known again and again.

The unspoken rule seems to be: Equate your personal net worth with the role you hold at work.  The equally unspoken rule is: No work, no role, no worth.

When looked at objectively, after all, the person who’s been laid off today is still exactly the same person who held the job yesterday. She or he has the same capabilities, talents, internal resources and work experience that made holding the job possible. She’s still the same person the employer thought valuable when they hired her in the first place.  She or he is still the same human being.

So what’s changed? Well, for one thing the salary isn’t rolling in. For another, the laid off person doesn’t have an office to go to or a boss or people, if he or she is a manager, to manage, or co-workers to associate with.  The day is entirely open to do whatever the heck you want with it, which can be very unsettling. There’s no job description. There’s no power or sense of accomplishment. There’s no challenge. (These, by the way, are excellent reasons for seeking out a support group or – plug, plug – a job coach.)

But, if you really look closely at it, all of that is external to the individual.

So what I’m saying is, if you’ve linked your worth to the role you’ve played (or are playing) in your job, you’re riding for a fall. And that fall, the more you’ve linked your worth to your job, is going to be precipitous if your job ever goes away.  It will be unsettling emotionally, and it will work to your detriment when you start job hunting.

My observation is that most people who are laid off experience some degree of depression, starting off with shock, sometimes disbelief or denial, anger and resentment and this often translates itself into lack of energy and motivation in connection with finding a new position. Underlying this is – what else? – the severing of the link to the job and the loss of ego … status … position.

So what can you do about it? Well, for one thing you can begin to look at yourself in terms of the qualities that contribute to making you who you are – the qualities that contributed to whatever you’ve achieved in the work-a-day world, but also those qualities that have contributed to your having friends, a life-partner, if you’re a parent those qualities that have gone into parenting your children, contributions you’ve made in other areas of your life. Are you courageous, inventive, creative, empathetic, humorous, analytic, objective, supportive, etc., etc.?

The list, I hope, is long and diverse; if not, “attention must be paid.” Those qualities are what contribute to your individuality and worth in the first place, not the fact that you hold a certain type of job or earn a certain amount of money.

(Please note that I’m not running down the importance of the money, which is another issue completely. It is important to pay the bills, and it can buy status symbols, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with – ironically –your self-worth.)  Because, if you let your intrinsic self-worth be determined by anything outside your control, you’re at  the mercy of whatever comes along, instead of really knowing who you are and what your real attributes add up to.

What I’m proposing here is, as the title suggests, that
you, dear readers, unhook yourselves from your jobs and substitute something that’s more permanent to bolster your egos.

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