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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Reinersman

Work As Identity: The Job is but one Story in Life

Updated: May 27, 2020

Discerning work’s meaning to the individual is like trying on masks at a costume shop. Quite often more than one is picked up, placed on the face or head, and either enjoyed or dropped. Don’t be too quick to assume the mask in hand equals the whole identity. After all, even Donald Super’s (1980) theory of self-concept involved numerous life roles. ~ David M. Reile, Ph.D.

FOCUS ON: A Healthy Connection After Retirement or Unemployment

Retirement? Your clients may be worrying about leaving the work force at the end of their current career. Of course they may miss being involved in their profession, but they have options for not losing their identity. Encourage them to try something new, establish friendships outside the office, explore volunteering – these actions may help avoid an identity crisis. Unemployment? Your client may be facing long-term unemployment, which requires a two-pronged approach: a job search campaign and a rebuilding of a sense of identity and meaning. Recovering self-identity is key during this time.

JOB SEARCHING: The Elevator Speech

Remind your client that what you say in 30 seconds (or 3 minutes) identifies you and often includes a few words about your work. Because this short “elevator speech” could lead to new work, the client may need your help to get it right. Assistance can be found online on how to create, use, or beef-up the speech – look on Twitter using the hashtag #ElevatorSpeech!


JOB SEARCHING: How to Define and Grow Your Personal Brand

Your identity includes your personal brand. Having a well-defined personal brand will keep you employed in the “gig economy.” Project work requires clear communication of who you are and what you can do. This is a great way to grow your brand. Read more about the gig model.

FOR PRACTITIONERS: Shifting Identities

When your clients cling to an “old” identity, they may be struggling to connect with and be understood by others. Narrative therapy is one technique for exploring self-identities that could help your clients tell the story of their life – without limiting it to an “old” identity. Read more about shifting identities.


FOR PRACTITIONERS: Career Identity and Career Readiness

Finding a career that brings one pleasure and fulfillment while utilizing one’s skills is an essential aspect of career development. Counselors can help clients by combining identity development theory with career narratives which can serve as a guide to designing appropriate interventions. Read more about identity development.

TOP TEN: Routines to Maintain and Ditch During Work Transitions

A job loss should not mean a loss of exercise or sleep routines. While changing your work identity, be sure to treat yourself with kindness and positivity. Read all ten ways to fortify your work identity.


“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” - Martha Graham
“To be idle requires a strong sense of personal identity.” - Robert Louis Stevenson


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