Does work define who you are?

“What do you do for work?”

How often do you get this question when you meet someone for the very first time? And how often do you introduce yourself by saying what you do for work?

If your job is sales related, then immediately you receive a label as the “sales person.” The person you just met then associates you with any good and bad attributes normally associated with somebody in sales.

Similarly, if your job is technical, like an engineer or a programmer, then immediately you receive a label as the “smart technical person and any good and bad attributes usually associated with people in the field.

Why do we allow others to use our job to define who we are and our personal attributes? And why is this socially acceptable?

Work should be a small subset of your life!

Instead of introducing ourselves by stating what we do for work, shouldn’t we introduce ourselves by stating our passions and interests?

For example, compare these two introductions.

“Hi I’m Bob. I work as a product manager at a high tech company managing products that generate multi-million dollars in revenues for our company… blah blah blah…”

“Hi I’m Bob, I am very passionate about personal finance and investing. I am aiming to achieve financial independence in my early 40’s. I love outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, rock climbing, and kayaking. I also love watching all sports, especially hockey. I enjoy making and eating good food. I love taking landscape photos as well as creating unique portraits that capture human emotions. One of my life goals is to visit all 7 continents.”

See the huge difference between the two introductions? By stating my passions and interests, I am trying to create a personal connection. I don’t know about you but I think by stating what I do for work just makes me sound quite boring.

By creating a personal connection with the person I just met, it opens the door to the possiblity that we share similar passions and interests. Perhaps we can learn from each other and become close friends.

Don’t let work define who you are.

You are more than what you do for work.

Why do people retire early?

Speaking of work and how work becomes a large part of your life, Mrs. Our Next Life asked an interesting question recently:

Does anyone who is serious awesome at their job retire early?

Those people who are pursuing financial independence retire early (FIRE), are they just not good with their jobs? Is that the only reason they want to get out of the rat race and do something else?

I don’t think so.

I believe many people were awesome at their jobs when they first started, whether working in sales, engineer, programmer, trades, or other areas. However, as they climb the corporate ladder or advance in their careers, they have to take on more and more responsibilities. Although this advancement typically comes with higher salary, it also means having less time to do what they are good at when they started the job originally. For example if you are a programmer you probably enjoy writing code and solving problems. As you advance in your career and start managing people, you might end up spending all day in meetings and managing other people’s work instead of coding and solving problems. Thus they don’t get as much enjoyment out of work anymore.

Therefore, these people feel trapped in their jobs because they aren’t doing things that they enjoy. Their jobs become the cause of many problems in their lives. So these people start to look for ways to get out of this downward spiral. And one of the ways to get out is FIRE.

On the other hand, some people are ridiculously awesome at their jobs no matter where they are in their careers. They are just so awesome. But they realized that their jobs are restricting their freedom. They can’t drop everything and go traveling for a year, take a nap at whatever time in the day, or go skiing on a blue bird Wednesday.

The freedom associated with FIRE becomes extremely attractive to these people. And so that results in the pursuit of FIRE.

For me, there is way more to life than work. And that’s why I want to reach financial independence. (Although if you talk to Mrs. T she might disagree. She thinks I spend way too much time working).

I want to reach financial independence so I can work because I choose to, not because I have to. When I realized the importance of this key difference, I began to appreciate why financial independence is so attractive. I will be no longer tied to a particular job, I will have the ultimate flexibility and freedom.

Work does not dictate my life.

I do.

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22 thoughts on “Does work define who you are?”

  1. Good job with that post Tawcan! I love it!

    It is amazing how most people define themselves with work. So many times, it happened to me that I ran into someone I didn’t see for years, and first question is: So, what are you up to? The word “work” is not even in the question yet we all know that it is implied. And yes, I used to define myself a lot by that!

    I was pretty good at my job too. One of the best to be honest. This paragraph is like my description: “On the other hand, some people are ridiculously awesome at their jobs no matter where they are in their careers. They are just so awesome. But they realized that their jobs are restricting their freedom. They can’t drop everything and go traveling for a year” Hahaha!

    Now that my one year trip is almost over (11 months have gone by), work is not who I am anymore. I’m so much more than that. My interests and main passion have not changed much, but the way I see it all has changed A LOT. I want freedom, I want to live intensively, I want to make my dreams come true. I want to be passionate about what I’m doing and grow something bigger than my own self. And yes, I believe it will happen with my sites, although my dreams are not all related to them.



    • It’s pretty awesome that you’ve been able to take some time off work and see the world. That will give you a completely different perspective when it comes to life. 🙂

  2. I’ve noticed that some people you meet like to work their occupation/profession into conversations early on and wait for you to be impressed. Says more about them, I think.

    I have been told that professional/highly educated women try to avoid disclosing this as there is a belief that men don’t like to date women with more education.

  3. As a flight attendant, my job definitely has some negative attributes! ;). In fact, I know many FAs who don’t tell men they are FAs until after a first date…that is taking it a little far for my liking but to each their own! Anywho, I much prefer knowing who someone is instead of what they do as your second example showed.

    As for Mrs. ONLs post, I was one of the weirdos that said I love my job! Even though I love it, that doesn’t mean I want to HAVE to do it. I am slowly working towards FI and when I get there I don’t have plans to quit. I will continue to work (easy for me to say with such a flexible job!) a coupe of trips but I won’t miss the grind of having to put out a certain amount of hours each month. That’s for the birds!

    • Flight attendants have one of the toughest job, it’s so hard to satisfy your customers. 🙂

      We are very similar on how we see our jobs. I love my job too. FI doesn’t necessary mean I would quit work. It simply changes my focus from work because I have to to working because I want to.

  4. While at work I talk about work however, outside of the workplace it’s never mentioned. I’m lucky that within my close group of friends none of us work within the same field or industry. As a group we have everything from trades people, engineers, government managers, unskilled laborers and even a systems administrator. As a result we talk about things that actually interest us. This is very different from hanging out with “work friends” where the topic seems to always drift back to what’s going on at work.

    • It’s totally fine talking about work when you’re at work. I have found myself asking my friends how work is treating them whenever we meet up… I definitely need to stop that and start focusing more on our interests.

  5. I have noticed that when people talk to Mr DDU they only ever ask him “how’s work?” but when that same person talks to me they ask “how are you?” – I’m not sure if it’s the people we associate with, Australians in general or a international stereo type that men often face.. But it is very interesting to me that as a (part-time) working woman that others do not define me by my work, but my husband is!

    We are working towards FIRE because career/work isn’t our motivator in life, we see career as a tool, but not an ultimate destination. Family life, time flexibility, etc, that is the destination.

    Mrs DDU

    • That’s very interesting point. A little bit of sexism maybe? Totally agree that career should be treated as a tool rather than an ultimate destination.

  6. This reminds me of something an old friend of mine used to ask people when she was getting to know them, instead of “so what do you do for work?” she’d ask “what do you do with your time? or “what do you like to do with your time” hoping to hear more about what the person was into or what they were passionate about. At one point as I thought about how I would response to that kind of question, I found myself having to think far more than I’d like! My mind immediately ran to work/study!

    • That’s a way better question to ask someone you just met. I should start asking like that. It’s way more interesting to hear what the person is passionate about. It also will create an easier time to start conversation topics IMO.

  7. Your job position tells more if you have achieved ‘something’ or not was the first thought that popped up. I agree with Brian that how we look at work is starting to change. And people are more and more pursuing what they like to do and make a job out of it.

    It would be the best if you could tell who you are as a person, an that same things also reflects what your work is, or projects/side hustles whatever what you do. Yesterday I dined at a place where the chef was a BBQ-master because of passion, and he just loved what he does and makes money from it. That’s something that’s easier to achieve once you’re are financial independent.

    • That’s true about job title telling whether you have achieved something or not. But is a C, VP or director title considered more an achievement compared to a regular job title?

      It is definitely easier to pursuit your passion 100% when you are financial independent.

  8. I love my work… but now as I approach 30 and have a few years under my belt, I must admit I’m getting more disillusioned with the whole concept and really starting to understand the term ‘grind.’

    • Just wait for a few more years and you’ll really get to understand the grind, especially once you start moving up the corporate ladder.

  9. Sadly it’s very common for people to define themselves by what they do. I still believe it’s possible to enjoy your job and want to continue to work. But I also believe a balance is needed. Financial independence can provide that balance.

    • Finding your own balance is extremely important. What’s balance for you may not be right for me. That’s why it’s called “personal” finance. 🙂

  10. I’d much rather talk with the guy from your second introduction. I still believe for many their work defines them, but it’s starting to shift. The fact that we don’t work for a single companies for a career these days, loyalty is starting to fade. As the FI movement continues to catch on it will be less about the work and more about reaching the goal.

    • Haha I figured that as much. The second introduction is just so much more interesting.

      That’s true that loyalty is starting to fade but it still doesn’t prevent people from define who they are by stating what they do for work. I think the FI movement will create a huge disruption in the next 5 – 10 years.

  11. Great topic . . . I talk about this a lot with my students . . . my identity is not my work. There is a difference between the question ~ what do you want to be? as compared to . . . what do you want to become?

    In today’s world, the latter is less often considered.

    • What do you want to become… that’s a great question to ask. Rather than focusing on what you want to be, we should all really focus on what you want to become. If we all focus on that, the world will be a better place.


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