Separating who you are from what you do is the dream result of healing an unhealthy relationship with work. And for me, it was a lengthy and sometimes complicated journey to get here. In an effort of honesty and a practice in imperfection, I’m going to level with you here and say that I still struggle with untangling my identity from my job (even my job as a coach or writer) from who I am. If I’m being realistic I know that what I do to make money is a part of my identity – to me the important part is knowing that it is only a small part of who I am. My identity cannot rely on my career regardless of how much I enjoy it.
After years of working on separating my identity from what I do I am proud to say that I know that I am whole, unique and amazing without it (I just also need money to live because capitalism really does run the world). My jobs enable me to live a life that fulfills me and I can live with that. So now I want to help you get there (if that’s where you want to go..if not I would suggest skipping this blog).
Disclaimer – I did NOT go to med school
Before we continue any further I want to remind you that I am not a mental health professional. I am a life and career coach. These tips, tricks and ideas are just what has worked for me and my clients. As always your life decisions are your own so take what resonates and leave what doesn’t!
Work Life Boundaries
Whether you are a remote worker or in the physical office, setting boundaries with when you start and end your day is extremely helpful. My mindset around work shifted when I realized that after a certain time it was ok to check out, walk away and leave the project for another day. Everything cannot be urgent and by building out boundaries around when I came in, left or stayed online, I began to find balance and a sense of calm in my work.
One of the work life boundaries I set was that I did not start my day before 8am. Another was that I had to take lunch for at least 30 minutes everyday and WALK AWAY FROM MY DESK. A third was that I had to honor appointments with myself meaning that if I scheduled a workout, break or time off I took the time to do those.
Speaking of workouts I also encourage prioritizing movement as a way to signal to your body that its physical and mental wellbeing is more important than work. So many of us spend so much time sitting and our poor bodies pay the price. To help with that I will do 5-10 minute yoga flows as breaks throughout the day or after work.
Another way to work on your work life boundaries is to find a hobby, interest or habit worth upholding your boundaries. This can be anything! A few ideas are an exercise class, painting, reading a book or playing video games. Anything that lets you focus on something other than your work. Having hobbies or habits that you enjoy is also a great way to turn off your mind when you think about work outside of work (more on that in the next section).
Thinking About Work After Hours
If you are anything like me the suggestions above sound great but you cannot turn off your anxious mind outside of work. And if you are like me this may be something that you need to work with a medical professional on – it also may be something that you can find a coping mechanism for on your own (there are no rights and wrongs either way).
My first tip for getting your mind off work and into a relaxing evening is to find an activity or two that you do most days after work to signal to yourself “no more thinking about work”. For me that looks like closing my laptop, taking my dog out and then doing another non-work related task. For you that might be yoga, screaming off your patio at passing children, showering or taking a nap. I’m not here to judge you and I’m asking you not to judge yourself. The only goal here is to find something that works for you.
My Brain Won’t Shut Up
Now this habit will build over time but in the interim and on the busy days the work thoughts will still sneak into your brain. Here is what I do to deal with them.
- I notice the thought, I try not to judge it and I say “thanks for being here but you have to go and you don’t get to waste my time”
- I tell myself something to counter the thought like “I trust myself to have done that task correctly and I trust myself to fix it tomorrow if I have not”
- If the thought is persistent I distract myself by tapping into one of my hobbies. I like to use something that makes me use my mind and body so a video game, yoga or a HIIT workout.
I did this consistently until I got it to stick. It’s a practice of patience, resilience and self-trust. If the thoughts would not go away and it was ruining my evening, sometimes I would just do something about it (if that was an option). If that was not there my back-up plan was to interrogate the thought with some perspective. “Who does this affect?” or “Is this worth worrying about or is worry a work related habit of mine?”.
A Self-Trust Exercise
My favorite byproduct of separating my worth from my work was building my self-trust and confidence. By practicing self-trust, knowing that I could handle anything that came up and learning to quiet my inner critic I began to see myself as so much more than my job. And this revelation made my occasional work mistakes less catastrophic for my mental wellbeing.
As always, I’m here to support! If you want help separating who you are from what you do I’m here to help! You can find a few ways to work with me here.