The trap of job identity

The video of Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin went viral, a couple of days back. Why did the video go viral?

Because there was a stark contrast between her personality and expected job identity. This contrast caught the eye of the masses.

There is little room in our minds for an extroverted librarian. Or for that matter a Tibetan monk who might love skydiving. 

We often get trapped in our job identity. Some of us don’t do it deliberately, while others find comfort in our job identity. Over a period of time, it becomes easier to carry the cloak. And soon it starts showing in your behavior. The way you walk, talk, manage your demeanor, choose your words and actions, and dress for the situation, everything begins to shape up. It is like a cage we slowly build and find comfort in. 

Now that you have done all the hard work, people expect you to be in that cage. As long as you comply with the standards set by you, peace prevails. Meanwhile, your authentic self, sits patiently and quietly in a corner, hoping that someday you will break the cage. And then some fine day there is a revolt. There is a civil war of sorts between the work identity and your true self. The winner decides how your life would unfold for many years to come. 

Career transitions and sabbaticals happen when the authentic self wins. Work identity leads you to scale where you are, perhaps at the cost of losing your true self.

I have witnessed some leaders slyly use their work identity to cover their true selves. They just don’t want to be vulnerable. 

Anyway coming back to Sanna Marin’s story. She told reporters that “We partied in a boisterous way, I danced and sang. I am an individual and a human. There is a private side to me.”

I can only appreciate the society that allows people like Sanna to be their authentic selves. 

I can only empathize with those who are striving hard to maintain their work identity. It is like walking a tight rope. It takes energy. It has a cost. The question is how long can you stretch it? Or is there any need to do so? Should your work define your personality? 

What do you think?


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