Enough years have passed that I can share this story. I have always found it poignant and hilarious—but now I know it also makes a couple of excellent points.
It's about a husband and wife
(nobody you know and no one in my family)
He was a high-flying executive; she, a stay-at-home mom with school-age kids. Mom had never worked outside the house—until she was offered a job with an insurance agency.
Imagine how incredible that would feel, how validating, especially if it was your first job offer. Your first paycheck.
So as soon as her husband came home from work, she shared her good news. First words out of his mouth: "Why in (bleep) would you want to work for an insurance agency?"
Furious, she shot back with, "Well, no one asked me to be a (bleep bleep) movie star!"
“Never marry a person who is not a friend of your excitement.”
— Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D.
That's probably Lesson #1. But it's not what I started out to tell you.
I tell you that story because it speaks to our messy relationship with work—something The Atlantic captured recently in a piece called The Religion of Workism is Making Americans Miserable.
The article defines workism as "the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose." As in the all-too-familiar question:
“What do you do?”
It's the standard American opening line. And while the question may be asked with the purest of intentions or no real intention at all, it can also promote the illusion that our core identity is our work—or should be.
You can see this in how people respond. Notice how most people answer the what-do-you-do question with an I-am statement. As in...
“I’m a nurse."
“I’m a contractor.”
“I’m a plumber.”
I'm an executive. I'm an insurance agent.
Here's the point: No matter how glamorous or un-glamorous your work may be, it doesn't do justice to the flesh-and-blood human being that is you. It doesn't begin to describe your infinite worth—nor was it meant to.
Yes, we should take pride in our work. We should make our work meaningful. As the author of Thriving at Work, I love helping teams find and create more meaning.
But work becomes a demon when we turn it into a god—when we give it a power it was never meant to have. Simply put, who you are (and whose you are) matter much more than what you do. Always have, always will.
If you want more “work-life balance”
Spend more time cultivating your life and identity outside of work. Work is what you do. Your heart, soul, and relationships reflect who you are. Invest in them. Invest in the qualities that will make you better personally and professionally. But that's another Pep Talk for another day.
Work becomes a demon when we turn it into a god.
— Gina DeLapa