Defined by Your Job?

definedFor many of us, our own self image is defined by our jobs. When someone loses their job, they may feel they no longer have value or purpose.

This topic was brought about by Dustin McKissen, who wrote a post called If You Lose Your Job, Remember This. Dustin wrote about his father after losing his job:

My dad is also good at more than just building things—he is a good guy, with a good heart, and people love him. I love him. He is a great Grandpa.

But when he lost his job, he lost part of himself.

When you feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself, the search to find that missing piece can take you to some very dark places. It did for my dad, and much of the last 15 years have been hard on him, and the people that care about him.

My Own Father

My father was an economist for the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). In 1978, my father was handed a retirement package and was asked to leave. He was in his late 50s and was not ready to retire. Financially, my father and mother were fine. The retirement package kept my mother living well into her 80s.

However, the retirement package killed my father. It took another 15 years, but it killed him. His entire self image was defined by his job. Dad had twice pursued a PhD in economics, but each time a child came along, he put it aside. When he pursued University teaching positions, he was always turned down. He did not have the paper credentials.

He eventually landed a teaching position at York College, but by that time, he was pretty beat up. His mental health declined and that is what eventually killed him. He was defined by his job.

IBM Meltdown

During the holiday season of 1992, I ruptured the L4/L5 disc in my back. I decided to take three months of disability and let my back heal rather than be operated on. I do not like doctors with sharp implements.

While I was gone, IBM nearly went bankrupt. IBM discontinued the famous full employment pledge. Thousands of employees were given generous retirement packages to leave. Just like my father, who would pass away a few months later, this was a death sentence for many. They viewed themselves as IBMers. It was who they were.

When I returned to work in early April of 1993, I was clear. I had had a moment of clarity while I was out on disability. I saw what was important to me and it was not my job. I was not defined by my job.

My definition of myself was further reenforced by what I saw when I returned to IBM.

How We Forget!

Fast forward a few years later. I left IBM on my terms in January of 2000. I went to work for a successful high-tech startup, Agere, which was acquired by Lucent. Then, in July of 2002 I had another moment of clarity: I had a near fatal bicycle accident. I had a head on collision with a Toyota Corolla, where our combined speeds exceeded 50 miles per hour. By the way, I lived!

The following year, I pursued getting my Texas High School Math teaching certificate. I taught high school math at an inner city school for almost two years. I was very successful. It tore me up emotionally and physically.

When I left teaching, I was lost. I wrote a post on this called Dealing with that Directionless Feeling, which is found daily on Google search.

Ten years earlier, I became determined not to be defined by my job, but I was struggling…just like my father! The difference now was I wanted to be defined by my life purpose and not my job.

Job Club

I have served on the board of directors of Launch Pad Job Club since 2006. I have seen many who have been laid off who struggle with the lose of self image. Whether the job loss was involuntary like my father and fellow IBMers or voluntary like my departure from teaching. It still stinks!

I have to go back to the time when I returned to IBM and remind myself it is my choice on how I define myself.

I am not defined by my job! I desire to be defined by my life’s purpose!

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