What do you do?


At social events I’m often asked ‘What do you do?’

I could answer ‘I knit’,  ‘I take photos’ or  ‘I spend a lot of time reading’ but I know that what I’m really being asked is ‘What do you do for a living?’

Why is this so important to us?

Looking at what happens when faced with losing our jobs can provide some useful insight. Fear of job loss may encompass feelings of failure, of letting other people down, feelings of being out of control together with the more practical aspects of not having enough money to pay the bills.

As an HR Consultant who has managed multiple redundancy processes, I’ve found the one overriding fear is the belief that our job is our personal identity.  This belief can be so overwhelming that job loss can have a major impact on how we see ourselves and, subsequently, negatively affect our emotional and mental well being.   Extensive research shows that the negative impact of job loss can happen even if we believe that our job is under threat and even if that belief is mistaken.

In this ever changing world, the threat of job loss is not unusual.  So how can we help ourselves to  ensure we are in the best possible position if this happens to us? How can we ensure we feel we have other facets to our personal identity?

  1. Focus on a better work life balance.  It’s really easy to become totally absorbed in our job.  If we let this happen we gradually find that we have nothing else to talk about, we become irritable when we are away from work and we begin to put an unreasonably high value on those things that will help us fulfil our work goals.  It can result in stress and burnout and have a very negative effect on our health and on our relationships with others.  It makes sense to ensure we devote adequate time to other aspects of our life.  It may sometimes feel like we can’t do this but there is always a way to make it happen.  I find starting with making small changes helps – for example, set a start and finish time each day and stick to it which means not looking at work e-mails or taking work calls. If we don’t do this we will have no time to develop other aspects of our personal identity.
  2. Develop other hobbies, interests and friends. Once we have some free time to do other things it’s time to start thinking about how to create some fun! We could sign up to the gym, join a dance class, take up a new sport, introduce some creativity by learning a craft or enrol on an evening or on line course.  It really helps if we join a group because we will also gain a new network of friends with the same interests. If we do things that make us happy we become absorbed and forget about work. It makes a huge difference.
  3. Develop a part-time business.  Workaholics (like me!) might find it more rewarding to develop a part-time business.  We might need to tell our employer about this, depending on the terms of our contract and, needless to say, it shouldn’t be something that is in competition with our employer!  The business could be making and selling hand made products, developing websites, marketing, photography, writing – the possibilities are endless.  In addition to adding a new aspect to our personal identity we might develop an alternative income stream.
  4. Develop new transferable skills.  Creating a more holistic personal identity isn’t about losing focus at work. We all have a responsibility to ourselves to enjoy our work life. We can do this by being positive, learning new skills and keep our existing skills and knowledge up to date.  We can look out for new opportunities – for example when internal vacancies arise or there is a possibility of being seconded into another team.
  5. Be open to change. We can be the person who says yes to change. Having more skills will only make us more employable and more valuable to our employers. It will differentiate us and give us a much better chance of being in control of our own work lives.

Next time when someone asks ‘What do you do?’ What will your answer be?

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