“I have to change my career,” Rachel insists, her eyes burning. “I know I’ll regret it if I don’t at least try and do something where I can be more active; like becoming a personal trainer.
If this was the first time I’d coached Rachel it might make sense for us to start to explore exactly what type of ‘more active’ role might suit her. But it wasn’t the first time we’d talked, and in truth Rachel was already pretty clear that for her new career, she wanted to help people improve their health and fitness at midlife so they can have a long and happy retirement and old age.
Indeed Rachel had already developed an excellent action plan for her new career. Unfortunately, she was making little progress implementing it. I asked Rachel a few more questions and things became clearer.
The Problem of Being 'Identified' With Your Professional Role
It seemed that Rachel was ‘identified’ so strongly with being an HR Director, and also with working in a large corporation, which was what she’d been doing for the last 18 years, that deep within her it felt impossible that she could be anything else. She’d had an ‘idea’ and made a plan to become a personal trainer. However, it was as if her internal ‘space’ was under monoculture to ‘HR Director vegetation’, and there was no ‘open ground’ within her, where she could plant and nurture the seedling for her new career.
If we’ve been in a role for 10, 15 or more years it’s easy to become ‘identified’ with that role. When this happens, our role is not just what we ‘do’, but it can seem that we ARE that role… and it can hard to be anything else. Our tendency to identify with our professional role may be exacerbated if we have worked long hours at it, and also perhaps if we enjoy the professional status that role gives us.
It’s easy to identify with any role. A ‘mother’ or ‘father’ who takes a career break can become identified with their caregiving role, and then find it hard to make the transition back to their career. Being identified with a role can also make us feel alive and focused, and that we have somewhere to channel our energy.
However, identifying with a role, any of our roles, ultimately limits us. Because when we are identified with a role we are not in control; instead we are being driven by unconscious urges. This means we will likely overlook and be unable to tap into our other talents, interests and traits. This could mean that we miss out on career and life opportunities, miss out on what might make us happy at midlife. When we are heavily identified with a role and try to make career choices, there is a risk that we will make a sub-optimal choice.
Dis-Identifying from Your Role Can Help Your Midlife Career Change
Even if you don’t want to make a career change at midlife, you could benefit from ending a strong ‘identification’ with, or dis-identifying from your work role. Dis-identifying from your work role will give you a new perspective from which to make decisions. It can also release more energy as you reclaim parts of you that you might have pushed aside. Another risk of being overly identified with a job role is that, should you lose that role, perhaps through redundancy, retirement or ill health, then you could feel ‘quite lost’. It might even bring you to a crisis.
“We are dominated by everything with which our 'self' is identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we dis-identify ourselves" Assagioli.
Even if you’re working 60 hours a week at your job – you are much more than your role identity. Your role might require you to be for example organised and pro-active and ‘results driven’ among other things. But what about those other great talents you have; perhaps your creativity, your playful side, your athletic side. Is there space in your life for these aspects of you to 'show up'? By identifying so strongly as an HR Director, Rachel’s view of all the other parts of herself was blocked.
How to Stop Being Identified with your Career Role.
Ending your identification with a career role is a journey. It’s a journey where you discover your ’self’. The ‘self’ is a still, but dynamic place inside you, from which you can observe and direct the various aspects of your personality.
Only when Rachel can stand back from her identity as an HR Director or dis-identify from it, will she feel less attached to the idea of herself in that role, and realise she has more 'ways of being’ in the world.
To begin this process I asked Rachel to practise a couple of exercises. You can download the full instructions here.
Here's a quick summary of the role dis-identification exercises.
It’s not just our work roles with which we can become overly identified. We can also become identified with our minds, our feelings and our bodies. By identifying with any of these aspects of ourselves we limit the choices we have in life.
The process of dis-identifying from our roles, minds, feelings and bodies, is something that we can work on regularly. This will not only enable us to change our career when we feel the need to, but it can enable us to open up more options for our whole lives and for us to use more of our talents.
Ultimately when we are in touch with our ‘self’, we are best placed to plan our career change or career development and most likely to succeed with it.
© 2018 Trudy Lloyd & Associates All rights reserved.
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I believe that everyone should enjoy meaningful, satisfying and rewarding work - work that fires you up! I am fascinated by human potential and the life journeys people make to find work and careers where they can channel and develop their skills and talents in meaningful and satisfying ways.