I made a big mistake. I let my job title define me.
For years I’ve told men and women never to let their career define who they are. Sure, it’s great to find work that you’re passionate about, but it's dangerous to build too much of your sense of self around what you do to make money. What if you get fired? Who are you without that fancy title?
Despite all of that, a few months ago I found myself committing the very act I’ve admonished. You see for several years now I’ve been running the career services department of a nationwide software engineering program. I take great pride in my work. I’ve built a team of dedicated coaches who have helped thousands of people start six-figure careers. It’s work that’ll surely be a part of my legacy. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
This summer it was announced that our company was being acquired by a competitor and that significant changes were on the way. In any acquisition, there will be a certain number of redundant characters, and my company is no different. I am currently being considered for the role, but it is uncertain whether or not I will remain in a leadership position. At first, that scared the hell out of me.
Let’s be clear. I have no ill will toward my employer or the other people vying for this role. They’re all doing what makes sense for them and their success. My fear was based more on my identity. I hadn’t thought that I was building my personality around my job title, but now it’s evident that I was.
It is unwise to build our sense of meaning upon something that other people can take away. Instead, we should focus on cultivating internal value and meaning. Perhaps that’s part of the reason I decided to refocus some of my energy in my own website and coaching practice. I want to continue my mission regardless of who employs me and in what capacity.
The jury is out on whether or not I’ll land this job, but I’m not worried like I was before. I recognize that the reason I got the job, to begin with, was the value I bring to the organization. Whether or not I remain in this role, that is the value I will carry with me.