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How to rebuild your identity so it's not fueling burnout

If you've downsized your relationship with work, it's time to modify your identity too
How to rebuild your identity so it's not fueling burnout
Photo by Ben Sweet / Unsplash

Sustain issue #28 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)

We’ve reached the final week of our Fall Reset series to work without burnout. The common theme from this mini-series is that there are no quick solutions to hack your way out of burnout. It’s intentional work to focus on doing less, better and doing so at a sustainable pace. And it’s all predicated on how you define success.

Today, we finish out with the close relative of success: Identity.

If success is the vague end goal that drives what you do, identity is the daily portrait of that definition.

Surely you know somebody who’s married to their work. That person and the job they do becomes synonymous. It becomes their identity. Maybe that person is/was you?

It was unquestionably me. I spent several years wholly connected to my job as I worked to build myself into a functional leader within the company. I traveled 80k miles in one year to meet with customers, spoke at conferences, was always connected to our Facebook groups, and thought about work all the time even when it should have been downtime.

I realized I had no hobbies. Few relationships outside of a work setting. And I felt acute anxiety that there was always something more I should be doing. It sucked the life out of me.

How enmeshed with work are you?

Psychologists call this deep mixing of self & personal identity with something like work enmeshment.

If you’re not sure how enmeshed with work you are, consider these questions (via HBR):

  1. How much do you think about work when you’re not working?
  2. How much and how quickly does your job show up when you describe yourself?
  3. How do you spend your time? Has anyone complained you spend too much time working?
  4. Do you have hobbies unrelated to work?
  5. How distressing would it be if you couldn’t continue in your profession suddenly?

Let’s say you’ve decided to follow the Agency Over Time definition of success rather than the Money and Power definition we discussed last week. If chasing money and power at work is no longer the purpose of your existence, you’ve made the conscious decision to downsize work’s importance in your life and should adjust your identity accordingly.

When I decided to leave my previous company people were really surprised. They told me you were always Mr. XYZ Company. Looking back, that statement alone is enough to validate my decision to leave. My job was the biggest piece of my identity and I never wished to repeat that. Now, I’m a husband, gardener, kayaker, cook, newsletter writer, cat dad, and I also have a job in marketing I like most days (in that order).

At a sustainable pace,

-Grant


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.

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