Kopps Cashier WomanTonight, I have a simple question I want to ask of my readers: who are you?

This goes deeper than mere demographics. Deep enough to, on second thought, italicize the are & play with some extra punctuation: who are you?!

Four months ago to date, at this very hour, I was probably sitting inside my cookie-cutter apartment in the greater Philadelphia area.  As usual, I’ll bet I was doing five things at once: cleaning up from dinner, listening to the news on my iPod, feeding my pet parrot, getting flustered over how high the pile of dishes in the sink had grown in only an hour, and thinking about the stress of work.

Yeah, work. My 9-to-5 gig. (Well, 8-to-4:30, if you want to get technical. Eight and a half hours.)

If you account for my forty-five-minute commute, I had a ten-hour workday. (If you, reader, commute through or near any major metro area, you’ll have no qualms about me classifying a commute as an extension of work. You certainly understand that, like work, it requires strict attention and produces headaches and frustration.)

It wore me down. All of it. The dismal cubical, the endless phone calls from angry customers, and the road rage.  The poor office morale, the traffic congestion, and the constant uncertainty looming over my and my co-workers’ heads about layoffs. I began that job as a whole person.

And I left as an empty, shaky, panic-prone shell.

I was happy to have a job, sure — but in true hamster-wheel style, it all felt so endless.

And endlessly unfulfilling.

I devoted more time to work (and commuting there) than I did to taking care of my health. I lost sleep. I endlessly fretted about my productivity and, in the process, became less productive.

Worst of all, I fell prey to the illusion that my job was the primary element of life from which my self-worth ought to be measured.

It is not.

We are not just workers. We are not solely our professional occupation.

When you introduce yourself to a new person, do you call yourself a cashier? A store clerk? A bank teller? A customer service representative? A claims adjuster? A driller? A mechanic?

If you don’t love what you do for a living, don’t lie. You’re not a cashier or a bank teller; you work as a cashier. You work as a bank teller. You don’t need to morph your sense of self around the fact that you work as a customer service rep or a claims adjuster. You work as a CSR. You work as a claims adjuster.

It’s okay if you’re not brilliantly in love with your job. It doesn’t need to define you.

Instead, you can define yourself in another way. Who are you?

Are you a great mother? Wonderful. Introduce yourself as a great mother. Or a devoted friend. Or an amateur photographer. Or a writer, or a sister, or a father, or an uncle, or a daughter.

Or a crafter, or a coffee connoisseur, or a comic book collector, or a gamer, or a news junkie, or a knitter, or a tech lover, or a pet owner.

These things — the things we love to be and the things we love to doought to define us instead.

And if you’re not passionately in love with what you do in order to make a living, don’t let your job slither up and squeeze the life out of you. It doesn’t need to damage your sense of self-worth.

Your job does not need to define who you are.

You — yes, you — are a fantastic person for many, many reasons — none of which are work or career-related. Write down those reasons and remember them. Stick them in your cubicle drawer. Put them in your Carhartt or apron pocket. Or your cash register. Or your cash drawer.

Hang onto that piece of paper and hang on to your self-worth.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Lynn Friedman