How Your Job Becomes Your Identity via @bethkahlich
As we navigate through our professional and personal lives – our jobs identify our self-worth. So do our personal lives.
We all have our unique journeys, but a common thread is how our jobs and personal circumstances define us and guide our journey through life.
I’ve been blessed with a career that has closely followed the technology changes of the past 50 years.
In addition, I’ve gone through the typical life milestones of a woman coming of age in the second half of the 20th century.
As a result, today I’m reflecting on my career and personal timeline. My hope is that it will help you find healthy ways to align your identity (both personal and work) to your overall well-being.
The Journey Through Self-Identity
As a child, I was always fascinated by technology.
For example, I loved taking apart and fixing my cassette tapes. In a couple of years, I saw those same cassettes become the first storage devices for the Apple II my math teacher brought into my 7th-grade class.
In college, I “fell in love” with a Macintosh SE computer and was completely entranced by the capabilities of that computer – writing, drawing, and even this strange thing called hypertext.
It felt good to be the expert in something, suddenly I could use technology to connect with other people. For the first time, a possible career path came into focus.
Looking back, college was a time I was desperately seeking attention and acceptance. Thankfully it moved from making bad personal choices to my love of computers!
My first job out of college, I worked in “report production” at a high-profile management consulting company. We used Macs to create graphics but still manually assembled text and charts. Lots of time spent cutting and gluing.
I was very young and naive about how to navigate the early-’90s male-dominant work hierarchy. However, work didn’t totally define me as I was busy getting married and buying my first home.
However, being innocent didn’t serve me well.
I was ultimately fired from that job for making an offhand comment to a senior manager. It was a toxic environment.
And it was probably the best thing that happened to me in my early career– although it didn’t feel like it at the time!
For eight years, I worked in marketing for a computer distributor of IBM RS-6000 and related products. Creating catalogs and direct mail pieces, I became an expert in Quark Express and desktop publishing. I made my first website in 1993!
Thanks in part to a wonderful manager, I really came into my own and gained confidence in my work. I did a wide range of projects and started my reputation as a jack-of-all-trades in the digital world.
Work really started to define me at this point – although I was secretly afraid to leave this comfortable position and branch out into other job opportunities.
Most importantly, during this time I struggled with infertility and pregnancy loss. Keeping my work steady and safe turned out to be the right decision as my personal life was in a great deal of turmoil.
In the next 10 years, I was a stay-at-home mom/freelancer/volunteer and I raised two wonderful boys (one biological and one adopted).
Unlike many of my other friends, I never stopped working on the computer. Projects included our first PTA website/online store and helping small businesses with their marketing materials.
I also started reading a blog by Bill Slawski called “SEO by the Sea”– still wasn’t sure about that SEO stuff, but found it fascinating. Plus, I was one of the early adopters of YouTube (remember the early days of vlogging?)
Being a mom was amazing – and the hardest job ever. My digital world was definitely a way to escape.
What a formative time for the growth of the web! Plus, I started to make friends from all over the world through my YouTube activity.
I saw digital as being my true career.
But what was next?
Moving from Mom to Business Owner
I knew I wouldn’t stay home forever. Making the next leap took more initiative than I realized that I had.
Starting in 2008 I owned my own business as a digital marketing consultant/SEO trainer/active volunteer.
Armed with my Macbook Pro, my experience and training, and a great suite of tools – I worked with hundreds of people opening them up to the possibilities of digital marketing and SEO. I also started volunteering with DFWSEM (the Dallas area digital marketing meetup).
It was one of the most rewarding professional periods of my life – mainly because of the friends I made and the opportunity to mentor others about digital marketing.
However, my wide range of experience was a blessing and a curse.
Because I knew how to do many things, I often overextended myself on projects (aka “scope creep”). I should have read this book more – The E-Myth Revisited.
And now – I’m back in the corporate world as an in-house SEO for a business process outsourcing company (benefits, payroll, and cloud). This position has been very interesting and also a good transition from having my own company.
I found that navigating a large corporate landscape has come light years since my first job – and all for the better
Work is still a huge part of my identity, but as many people my age – I am facing the daunting task of caring for aging parents. Just when I became an empty nester – my parents need me more than ever.
I have found that taking care of myself is what matters most at this stage in my life. It will never be enough if I give all my energy to my parents, and I can’t be there for them if I don’t take care of myself first.
So, What Does My Story Have to Share?
First, following a “typical” path isn’t the key to have a rewarding career. There is room for personal life and in the long run, that’s what really lasts.
Second, I don’t look at current circumstances as a failure. The greatest lessons I learned about my self-worth were in tough times.
Finally, I have made career choices based on my unique situations in life. I didn’t have to feel locked into anything, and I also learned that it’s OK to stay in a position that feels safe.
Thanks for letting me tell my story. I hope you’ve found some lessons here that can help your own identity in your journey through your digital and personal life.
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Featured Image: Paulo Bobita