The idea of personal identity is often tied to your job, a concept known as occupational identity or career identity. In some cases, the development of a professional identity is a healthy part of evolving an overall career self-concept that encompasses everything you are as an individual. For others, though, that workplace identity takes over, and other aspects are ignored or forgotten in favor of a purely career-oriented self-image.

The Link Between Work and Identity

Work takes up a lot of your time — typically 40 hours a week or more. It’s no wonder occupational identity is such a common part of most people’s conception of self. Your career identity can be positive or negative, and it can show up in a variety of ways. Some specific impacts of your career self-concept include:

  • Your belief in your ability to overcome challenges. A satisfying job that offers reasonable challenges can help you develop a strong belief in yourself. A boring job or one with unreasonable expectations can hamper your self-esteem and make you doubt your ability to tackle problems.
  • Your attitude toward your training and education. A job that lets you use your skills and knowledge gives you a sense of accomplishment. Jobs that don’t utilize your specific skill set may make you feel you’re undereducated or your skills are not useful.
  • Your optimism or pessimism about your job and career. Tying your self-identity to a job you hate could lead to stress and feelings of negativity about your overall life trajectory. Identifying closely with a job you love may make you more satisfied in other aspects of your life.
  • Your resilience and ability to handle rejection. A stable job situation can help buffer other circumstances in your life that might feel out of control. Someone with a strong occupational identity may rely on their work situation to provide stability during stressful times.

Pitfalls of Overidentifying With Work

Overidentifying with work can lead to problems when you don’t have balance in your life. Your workplace role perception isn’t your entire identity, so you need to include other aspects, such as personal relationships and hobbies, to paint a complete picture. Some specific parts of your identity you might want to consider in addition to your work identity include:

  • Your personal self-concept. This involves how you view your core personality. It can include things such as how kind, caring, serious, organized and dependable you are.
  • Your family self-concept. This type of self-conceptualization includes how you see yourself in relation to family members. It includes your identity as a parent, child, grandparent or spouse.
  • Your political self-concept. You might identify as politically liberal or conservative, or as someone who supports specific social, financial or political objectives.
  • Your hobby-related self-concepts. Some people involve themselves in one or more hobbies that become part of their identity. You might see yourself as a gamer, a martial artist, a photographer or a fan of a specific soccer team. Any hobby can become part of your self-identity.
  • Your health identity. Individuals with significant health concerns may include those as part of their self-identity.

One significant problem with overreliance on work to form your self-identity is that you ultimately don’t control whether your job and career remain stable. Being fired or laid off may have a major impact on your mental health if your identity is tied solely to your occupation.

When your identity is too wrapped up in your career or job, work concerns may start to displace other parts of your identity. You may become isolated from friends and family members, or you might abandon hobbies you once loved. In some cases, it becomes a matter of identifying not with the specific job you do but rather the status or side effects of that job. Creating your identity around wealth, influence or work-related achievements could put you at risk of burnout, stress or mental health issues.

How to Cultivate a Healthy Career Self-Concept

A good work-life balance is essential for a healthy career self-concept as well as long-term self-esteem and mental health. Over 40% of employees feel burned out from work, but a healthy work-life balance could help. Here are some tips for cultivating a better work-life balance:

  • Take breaks and aim for work efficiency. Creating an efficient work schedule that includes breaks while maintaining a realistic timeline for achieving professional goals helps keep your work life from becoming overwhelming.
  • Keep work concerns at work. Avoid taking home projects or checking work emails during your off time. Separating work life and home life helps keep everything in balance.
  • Make your health a priority. Regular exercise and healthy eating can reduce stress in and out of the workplace, giving you more energy and time to spend on the things you love.
  • Set aside time for hobbies and interests outside of work. Putting hobbies on your schedule ensures you don’t put off spending time doing things you truly enjoy.
  • Establish and maintain healthy relationships. Whether you’re married or single, having relationships outside of work is important for a good work-life balance. Make sure you spend time each week with family or friends in social settings.
  • Consider adopting a pet. Having a pet can reduce stress and give you something to focus on that doesn’t involve work or family. Pets give unconditional love and can help you feel more centered.
  • Assess how well your current job meets your needs. In some cases, having a good work-life balance might mean changing jobs or careers. While jobs are a necessity for most people, not all jobs are created equal. Look for a job you enjoy and an employer that values a healthy work-life balance.
  • Seek professional help if necessary. If you’re feeling anxious, stressed or depressed about your work or home life, consider contacting a therapist for help dealing with any mental health issues you might be experiencing.