You Are NOT Your JOB: Identity and Career

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Minimalism" by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Do you feel your identity is your job? Is it a huge part of your identity? Learn how to get over this trap so you can find your passions and live simply.

The Job-Identity Trap

Many people expect a career to be more fulfilling than a job. They believe it’s the ticket to a meaningful life.

However, having a career often sidetracks you from that goal. The reason is that people invest in their careers to the point of assuming an identity and social status based on their job title.

Our cultural norms aid and abet this tendency. One of the first things people ask when getting acquainted is, “What do you do?” This seems innocuous, but the implied question is, “What do you do for a living?” — and you know you’ll be judged (assigned a social status) based on your occupation.

Once you believe your career is who you are, it’s difficult to give up that identity even if you come to hate your career.

(A better way to answer the “what do you do” question is to reply with what you’re passionate about. For instance, “I’m passionate about cooking; what are you passionate about?” It leads to more interesting conversations than the typical answer along the lines of “I’m a director of operations.”)

The truth is, you’re far more than your career; you have passions that you can pursue for a meaningful life. You are NOT your job!

The Anchor of Identity

Your occupation is an anchor holding you back when you believe it defines who you are as a person.

When your job or career becomes your identity, it’s difficult to do anything else. That’s why many people stay in the same industry when they change jobs. It’s hard to realize you are much more than your vocation and/or your stuff.

Joshua and Ryan worked to come up with more meaningful identities than their corporate titles. They had to publicly identify themselves with new labels, such as mentor, leader, contributor, and minimalist. These identities are transferable to whatever they do, unlike their career identities.

Once you remove the anchor of identity, you can remove other anchors. You are NOT your job!

You Are NOT Your JOB: Identity and Career

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Here's what you'll find in our full Minimalism summary:

  • What Minimalism is, in complete detail
  • How to simplify your life and get rid of things you don't need
  • What's holding you back from your ideal career passion
  • How to take care of your body and health, the simple way

Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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