The danger of tying our self-esteem to our job

Nov 06, 2021

Rather than asking one another:


What do you do for a living?

What’s your area of specialty in medicine? Or,

Where do you work? 


What we should be using as a method of getting to know one another and engaging in conversation is to say: 


“Tell me about yourself.”


In doing so, we allow the person to decide what defines them. 


We allow them to let us into their world by hearing what they choose to share. 


When we ask what area of medicine somebody specializes in or when we ask what they do for a living, we’re essentially indicating, albeit subconsciously:


“Whatever you’re about to answer with will tell me many things I need to know about you, including but not limited to: 


How smart you are

How high up in status you are (or low)

How important you might be to other people

How important you should be to me

How much attention I should give you

Whether or not I want to hang out with you again


…and any other societal construct used to determine what archetype someone fits into.


This need not be the case. Things can be different; it just requires we engage in other verbal behavior. 


In behavior analysis, you have to have a replacement behavior that gets you access to the same maintaining reinforcer anytime you want to decrease undesirable behavior.


As I see it, asking somebody what they do for a living or where they work has become so robotic that we go much of our lives unaware of how often we lean on it for connection.


As I see it, the maintaining reinforcer is our innate desire to know, see and understand one another deeply.


To keep the flame of interest lit and to do so, we ask these questions. 


But we can maintain that reinforcer by replacing our verbal behavior with more humanness in our interactions:


Tell me about yourself

What excites you?

What do you fear?

Share your story if you’d like 

What’s coming up for you?


I’m not suggesting we view our occupation, no matter what it might be, with little importance.


It is of great importance. Work is necessary as it gives us structure, a version of ‘purpose’, it has survival value (monetary means), etc.;


And in today’s world, our occupation consumes a large portion of our day-to-day life, the conversations we have, and the people we surround ourselves with. 


So, of course, it’s essential, but it does not define us. 


We are not what we do. 


What we do is a skill we have and an area of interest we have spent a significant amount of time perfecting but, that does not make it self-defining. 


Think about it, when you were born, you weren’t born with the title of Student, Doctor, or Waitress. You were born as …you. 


So when and how did we go from being who we are to being a living and breathing entity defined by our area of work or study.


In doing so, we are at significant risk. We risk inflicting wounds on our self-esteem, wounds on our worth, and a self lacking autonomy. 


We tie our worth to whatever happens (or fails to happen) within those domains and this, my friends, is dangerous. 


Instead, let us work toward an unwavering self-belief and a deep self-trust that remain steadfast regardless of our specialty, our occupation, where we work, or what we do.


You are you. That has always been enough. 

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