I'm here to tell you it's not true. What you do, the job title you have whether it's CEO, VP, entrepreneur, stay-at-home spouse, educator, or freelancer has absolutely nothing to do with who you are as a human being. And who you are as a human is not only what matters, it's what makes your good at the titles you hold, and it's what attracts people to you, it's how you show up in the world.
How can we change the conversation?
We all question our identity at some point in our lives. It is usually triggered by a significant life moment — selling a business, losing a job, going through a breakup or divorce, losing a parent, or becoming a parent. I see people struggle most when asked who they are (or even genuinely sharing how they are doing) rather than what they do. This response is a typical American trait. The first question when someone is introduced to another? What that person "does." This doesn't tend to happen in other parts of the world (although in India it's likely you will be asked not only what job you have but how much money you make, how old you are and whether or not you're married!)
Our culture equates your worth as a person with what you do for a living. It is messed up and so not true — identifying only with your occupation, or lack of one is damaging and misleading. Who you are is about how you treat yourself and others, the way you see the world, kindness, and compassion toward yourself and others. It's about your purpose and the work you're truly meant to do.
How stepping out of one world showed me another path forward
I questioned my own identity in my early 30s. After a decade of working in sales and marketing and feeling like I had accomplished all I could as an advertising salesperson, I moved to Paris to learn about the world. I decided to get my Masters in International Relations and Diplomacy, immerse myself in a different language, and have different experiences. It was exciting and adventurous, and after a couple of months of living abroad, I had a complete meltdown. Who was I to live this international life? No one asked me what I did for a living (which was good because I didn't have a job — I was back to being a student!) They wanted to know who I was, and what I knew about the world. And it freaked me out! I had no idea who I was beyond being a top-performing salesperson. I was outside the comfort zone of being with friends who just "got" me, so I was lost when I needed to express myself to strangers.
It was a life-altering experience. I met the most amazing people who understood themselves — or so it seemed — who viewed work as something they did but not as something that defined them. People invested time in getting to know one another, to understand how and what other people thought. They were truly living, and I wanted a piece of that.
Now, I see these years in Paris as what guided me to become a coach. I already had the continuous improvement zeal by then, but it became more refined and significant as purpose grew behind it. I realized that I wanted to help others who were seeking out ways to reach their fullest potential.
Starting today is the best step forward
Spending time exploring how to be the best human you can allow you to be all the other things you want — to be the best leader you can be, the best partner, parent, friend, peer, performer. Reaching your fullest potential is an individual journey. It looks different to everyone and quite frankly is a discovery process. The clarity will come with time and no time like the present to get started.
Here are simple but effective ways to work toward identifying and reaching your fullest potential:
Start journaling — it is a consistent exercise of highly successful leaders and helps people get to know themselves better.
Read a book/listen to a podcast about how someone succeeded/endured — it doesn’t matter what it is, other than it intrigues you. Notice what you identify with and what you don’t.
Ask for feedback from your team, your peers, someone who knows you well. Ask what’s both great and challenging about you.
Work with a coach to learn more about the behaviors that help you and hinder you, discover your “why” — your raison d’etre — take steps to become more of the real you.