Our job and identity

When we meet new people, we may be tempted to ask what they do. We use the idea that our identity is linked to what we do.

What's more revealing are the psychological requirements and consequences of jobs - the mindset the job creates and how it limits us.

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How Your Job Shapes Your Identity

theschooloflife.com

Instead of categorising jobs in terms of what you do, we can group it in terms of the psychological profile - the traits of human nature they weaken or reinforce.

  • Patience vs impatience: Does the job train you to prioritise the now (A+E nurse, news editor)? Or the future (aeronautical engineer)?
  • Suspicious vs trusting: Journalist, antique dealer vs psychotherapy, air traffic control?
  • Speculative vs concrete
  • Consensus-seeking vs independent.

When we are in a particular psychological environment, it will influence what we assume other people are like and shapes who we are over time.

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An environment where compromise feels natural can broaden a person who has been over-invested in asserting their own views.

But work can also narrow our characters. A school administrator might be very good at reorganising the personnel roster but may be baffled if you ask what education is for.

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We have to ask in what fundamental ways our own character have been shaped (for better or worse) by our work.

When we consider how work shapes a person, we should not be so quick to blame other people for the way they are. Perhaps their job has made them so nervous, angry, or dull. Our identities are vulnerable to our jobs, and that may open the doorway for pity.

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