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Self-awareness in one's career

Your beliefs today

"Personalities, values and underlying beliefs...will influence what career people choose," writes Mary Hope in "Are You Just a Job Title? Work and Identity Explored." This is "the key to both professional success and contentment." More specifically, a person's underlying beliefs about how the world works helps determine the psychological profile of their job.

Psychological profile of a job

In "How Your Job Shapes Your Identity," The Book of Life raises questions about what kinds of thought and action your job requires you to do. Those questions could be paraphrased as follows. To look at the present or future? To promote positive outcomes or to warn of risks? To see things concretely or to interpret their meaning? To be suspicious of others' motives or to trust them? To see the better or worse sides of human nature? To seek consensus or go your own way? To withstand criticism or to be guaranteed respect? To have a clear path to advancement or accept chance? To deal with industry decline or industry growth? To set financial goals or to have other motivations? The article calls these "the psychological requirements and consequences of jobs — what mindsets a job breeds, what doing the job requires of your inner life, how it expands us and (crucially) limits us." The answers to the questions identify "what traits of human nature [the jobs] weaken or reinforce."

Has your work changed you?

Once a job is landed, it can influence or even replace one's original identity. "Role engulfment" describes what happens when people "lose all sense of themselves except as they exist through work," Hope writes. "For those people the loss of work or being forced to change career through redundancy or retirement can provoke a severe identity crisis, with people asking: ‘Who am I? What am I if I don’t work?’."

Role engulfment does not happen as a merely private process. It is often socially prompted. "In a rootless culture with no obvious class markers," that is, the United States, at least, writes Joe Robinson in "American Identity Crisis: Are You Your Job?,"

"the job defines the person and the pecking order. You are what you do. It’s a case of mistaken identity that is hazardous to your health, life, and even the work you do. In a 24/7 world where we’re always in work mode, there’s little escape from the identity that’s not you."

This "performance identity" leaves you vulnerable to

"false beliefs that rub out the real you — that all value lies in performance, that you can’t step back from production and tasks for a second, or you’re a slacker; that busyness is next to godliness; that self-worth comes from the productivity yardstick, net worth; or that taking time for your life is an interruption of production."

One goal of becoming more aware of one's underlying beliefs and the psychological profile of one's current job is to avoid having one's identity engulfed by the job. Another goal is to be better able to perform in one's current job or to choose a new job.


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