Coronavirus has hugely impacted on the lives of people all over the world. For many, work has been significantly disrupted. For others, altered beyond recognition. Furloughed, laid off, or made redundant. Working remotely, based at home, or continuing to work through the pandemic as a key worker. Whichever way you look at it, things ain’t what they used to be.
I have been in lockdown and out of work since March 2020. A double whammy of redundancy and the impact of Coronavirus has rocked my sense of self, disconnected me from what I have always known. I have spent much of the last four months reflecting on the central role work plays in our lives, how we can overidentify with our professional roles, and the extent to which we define ourselves according to what we do.
Work is a cornerstone of our lives. We devote a lot of time and energy doing it, thinking about it, and seeking it. We use it as a mirror to evaluate ourselves, depending on the extent to which we succeed or fail in our chosen career. Whilst it is good if we can enjoy work and find rewards in what we do, overidentification with work can be unhealthy and can prevent us having a stable, independent sense of self.
My experience as a Professional Supervisor is that signed language interpreters often overidentify with their professional status. I wonder if the allegiance we have with the Deaf community leads us to be more enmeshed in our role. Then there is the issue of demand traditionally outstripping supply. The temptation here can be to overwork, to accept assignments when near burn-out point, because ‘if I don’t do it who will?’ Being out of work, therefore, is a new experience. For me, this is the longest period of unemployment in my adult life. As with many other colleagues, this is the first time I have not been needed, the first time I have not had a full diary booked months in advance. It is important to take time to examine the effect this has, and how we can manage the feelings and emotions we experience.
What can we do?
Being cast adrift from our work, no longer feeling useful, not using the skills we have sweated blood and tears to gain, can have a devastating impact. These are some of the things I have been doing to try and centre myself, to rediscover who I really am, and to start to regain a sense of self-worth.
References and Further Reading
Davies, J. (2019). ‘You Are Not Your Work. How to escape “workism” and reclaim your identity.’ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tracking-wonder/201903/you-are-not-your-work
Koretz, J. (2019). ‘What Happens When Your Career Becomes Your Whole Identity.’ https://hbr.org/2019/12/what-happens-when-your-career-becomes-your-whole-identity
Shohet, R. (2008).’Passionate Supervision’. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Zetlin, M. (2015). ‘Define Yourself by Your Work? How (and Why) You Should Stop Now.’ https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/define-yourself-by-your-work-how-and-why-you-should-stop-it-now.html