Does Your Job Define You?

by Miranda Marquit · 8 comments

One of the most common conversation starters is asking people what they do to make money. In fact, asking “What do you do for a living?” is often one of the first questions people ask when they meet someone new.

Our society places a great deal of importance on the work we do. Our job determines how much money we make, and on some occasions, the level of prestige we have in our community.

Your job not only gives you an idea of where you fit in the world, but it can also change your social circles. It doesn’t seem right in some way, but if you are a doctor, say, then those around you will be friendlier towards you.

In many cases, your job defines you on a very basic level. Here’s what I mean:

Money and Status

Because jobs compensate workers at varying levels, it’s common to associate a job with status. We often grant higher social status to those with money. Often, the more money you make, the more admired you are. In fact, many people are forgiven undesirable traits just because they have money.

If you have a job that allows you to earn a great deal of money, you might enjoy a higher status among your peers. Even when the job is one we tend to mock as a society (a lobbyist comes to mind), the fact that a person in that profession has money is a mitigating factor (at least as far as status is concerned).

Money opens doors that might otherwise remain closed. When you have a high-paying job, you have access to other wealthy people, others with status and power, and additional opportunities for your children. In a very real way, it’s possible for your job to define you for your entire life just because of the amount of money you make and the socio-economic status that comes with it.

Do You Identify With Your Job?

Of course, not everyone sees money as the be-all and end-all when it comes to status. In some cases, the job is more about defining yourself through your profession. For example, I identify deeply with my career choice. I am a writer — and that is who I am, as well as what I do.

There are plenty of other jobs that also serve as definitions. Consider teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, public relations specialists, and others. It’s who they are, and what they want others to know about them.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, though. There are those who do what they do but don’t let it define who they are. In some cases, it’s preferable to leave the work at work and try to define yourself in other terms. It all depends on your level of job satisfaction, and what you get out of it — even if it’s not a lot of money.

Does your job define you? Or does something else?

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  • Property Marbella says:

    Unfortunately, greed often enters the picture when you start making a lot of money. Most people want more, and those who do forget to enjoy the money with the family. The money hunting mindset can ruin your life.

  • Phil says:

    This is a fun article, and one to which I can relate and actually brings up a lot of emotions.

    I am a teacher. When I started out I told myself, “I don’t need to make a lot of money.” Then, in my first 3 years, I couldn’t scrape together $500 to open a retirement account, or pay off of my $6000 in student loans. Heck, I was living in someone else’s basement for $250…cold, dust falling on me every time someone walked across the floor.

    I decided to quit teaching. I had no job lined up…and what lands in my lap. I got a gig collecting quarters out of video games (yeah, that was my job). I immediately made $15,000 more per year working 4 days per week. Toward the end of my two year stint, I was making nearly $40,000 MORE than being a teacher. Sad.

    In 2004, my wife and I decided to move, requiring me to go back into education. I decided to do the things that made me more as a teacher. 2006…earned my Masters degree ($6000 more per year). Next two years I became MA + 45 and MA + 90 ($4000 more per year). In 2011 I earned my National Board Certification (another $10,000 per year). Along with being a middle school soccer coach, I am making $70,000 per year as a teacher. But it took hours of study and thousands upon thousands of dollars in checks and tuition.

    Now if someone wants to question how I work 180 days per year and make $70,000 per year, I just giggle. I let them know it only takes 15 years of financial sacrifice. The worse part was that instead of building wealth during those 15 years, you are paying to further your education. I let them know they can go that direction if they want. I wouldn’t recommend it though.

    • David @ says:

      Thanks for sharing Phil,

      Your story is an inspiration for those who think luck is just something that happens to people. Sure, some people get better opportunities right out of the gate but with hard work, anyone can drastically increase their chances of success.

      The even better news is that those who actually worked for it cherishes their success much more, thus able to enjoy the fruits of their labor more than those who just happened to start out right!

  • David @ says:

    The more money people make, the more likely they will equate their self worth as their income.

    This reminds me of a saying: “If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a million dollars”

    You may get a ton of prestige when you make a ton of money, but stay a jerk and you won’t be able to build any true friendships!

  • Kosmo says:

    I’ve been thinking of writing on this exact same topic for months.

    Beyond husband and father, I am a baseball fan, reader, and writer. Those define me far more than my day job – in spite of the fact that writing generated about 1.5% if my income last year.

    I’ve been kicking around using the question of “What are your interests?” or “What are your hobbies” as icebreaker questions, but haven’t taken the plunge yet.

    • David @ says:

      Why not start with what you already know? Your hobbies and interests could very well relate to writing/reading and baseball. Start a site talking about baseball maybe?

  • Christine says:

    I used to be. And that’s one of the reasons I left my old profession. I’m a banker now and while it’s still a PART of who I am my career no longer defines me. Being a writer/blogger, which I don’t get paid for defines me much more than the job that pays the bills.

    • David @ says:

      Congrats on changing careers to get your life back! And you never know, the writer/blogger gig might start paying the bills one day!

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