‘So, what do you do?’
It was Sarah’s last dinner party before lockdown, and someone she didn’t yet know had turned to her from their left, ready to engage in a predicable flow of small talk. Irrespective of her response, he would reply ‘Oh nice, how long have you worked there?’ and ‘Oh cool. What are your colleagues like?’ before proceeding to drone on about his long hours, big pay cheque and annoying boss.
Sound familiar? That might be because the average UK working week clocks in at 36 hours, totalling 1,795 hours a year, and 84,365 hours over a lifetime – 4,512 of which are unpaid overtime (via Hitachi Personal Finance.) As a result, people are finding it harder than ever to separate their jobs from who they are outside of work hours, when boundaries are blurred and stakes are high, and work is often at the forefront of our minds.
Take 26-year-old Taryn Brickner, for example, who feels her chosen career path has to be fully reflected in her personality, in order to land the coveted role in publishing she so heavily desires. “You want to prove yourself in the industry, and your reputation becomes the way to do that,” she tells Cosmopolitan. “It’s impossible not to let your personality and career prospects get intertwined when it feels like one so heavily relies on the other.”
Publishing assistant Kirsty McMillan reiterates this, adding that her desire to do well at work means her personal life often plays second fiddle to work plans. “Having a consistently good reputation at work means saying yes to all opportunities, even outside of work hours, in order to impress the right people. You’re almost never off the clock.” Your email signature becomes more important than the last film you watched, or weekend plans you had.
As a result, LinkedIn research from May 2020 revealed over a quarter (26%) of UK workers struggle to switch off at the end of the day. With working from home and the threat of job loss, that struggle feels more illuminated than ever. “In 2020 the last thing you want is to feel disposable,” Emma Lagarde, also an assistant Cosmopolitan spoke to, adds. “So you never really stop thinking about work. Are you doing enough to impress? Could you be putting in more hours?”
So, how exactly do you separate your work from your personality? Kelly Hearn, Co-founder of Examined Life, encourages us to identify multiple different loves in our lives, and nurture them all equally. “It’s hard because some of us love what we do, but in a year like 2020 when job loss is at its height, our identities should have many pillars.
"To take the analogy further – a building with one pillar won’t hold itself up... We should have a pillar for relationships, a pillar for activities that bring us pure joy.. Create the pillars and focus on them as much as, or maybe more than, your job.”
Mindset coach Suzy Ashworth agreed, adding that you can use small exercises and reflective questions to identify what your personality needs, and to keep your job-related anxiety at bay. “[Ask yourself] ‘Will getting this promotion make me happier in my workplace?’, or ‘Am I able to be my true self when I’m in the office?’ It's all about looking inward and focusing on self-acceptance as a human being, rather than our careers.’
With that comes setting boundaries, identifying your other interests, and trying not to let your work take over your life. And hey, next time someone asks them what you do for work? You can tell them all about your metaphorical colosseum of pillars, instead.
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