You are not your job.

My So Called Sabbatical Part 1

This is the first post in a series about what I learned during my so called Sabbatical. These are things I never would have learned without taking a step back to breathe and see things from the outside and to talk to other people about their experiences.

My dad taught me a lot of basic lessons like how to balance a checkbook and change a tire. He also taught me to think for myself and to question everything. He taught me about work ethic and to never quit a job before you line the next one up, and that there are always exceptions to the rules -like when someone almost kills a coworker at your job (let’s get beers and talk about that one) or when you are financially and mentally stable enough to run off and chase some silly dreams.

But the most important lesson my dad taught all four of his kids is that we were more than just our jobs. We are daughters and sons, parents (to kids and dogs), nieces and nephews, musicians, fighters, and more. We’re people with multiple interests who love fiercely. We’re armchair political analysts, except at family gatherings. We love animals and people alike. We’re dreamers. But we are not defined by how we make money.

I held on to this lesson for many years of my young adult life and my day job was 100% a means to an end. I was going to be a rock star and run my own record label and my day job at the record store (or the CD duplicating plant, or the restaurant supply company, or the coffee house) was just a thing I did to pay the rent. But when I quit my promising local band it was difficult not to define myself by my job because it was just about all I had left.

Mere weeks after deciding that “rock star” wasn’t a viable career choice I started having panic attacks every day at work because I was becoming “just a bookkeeper for a company that sold toilet paper”. I spent more time crying in the bathroom than any employee ever should have. Every day the time I spent sitting in my car before having the guts to walk through the door got longer and longer. “I am more than a bookkeeper” ran through my head every minute I sat at that desk. I was good at my job and I respected the craft. I even liked working with numbers! But even though it was all I had at the time I knew, I’m not my job. I’m more. I’m something else.

Since I wasn’t going to be a rock star I needed to be something else and that something else was “doing something with computers”. Starting my first tech job was the first time I ever felt like I had a real promise for a future. So I let it be all of who I was because it was the best thing I’d ever been. I was learning a craft that would keep me from ever having to answers phones at a front desk again, or work the drive thru at the McBigCoffeeGiant. I wanted to be my job because my job was worth being and because it made me a better person. Until I let this industry start turning me into a one dimensional person. Until I was more interested in the pursuit of praise from my colleagues (both in and outside the office) at the expense of everything else in my life. Until I let my rock star ego creep in and start my burn out.

The company I worked for quietly and lovingly chose the tagline “Love What You Do” and our tech industry picked it up from them (and from Steve jobs of course) as a standard to live by. Love What You Do is a phrase of dreamers — my people. It’s succinct and simple and an inspiration. But I think the phrase got misappropriated somewhere along the way by those who didn’t know the full source or didn’t truly understand what it meant. The nod to doing great work got lost and as time passed it became a red flag for golden handcuffs. For people who loved more than their job, it became a judgement. If you’re not on 24/7 you must not love what you do! If you’d rather see your family you must not love what you do! When did Love What You Do mean only love the thing that pays your rent and make us forget all the other beautiful parts of ourselves and cause us to burnout? It was something that was supposed to inspire us to shine so bright.

My dad said you’re not just your job and our industry insinuates “If you’re not 100% devoted to your job 24/7, you’ll never do great work.” I think there are more than a few of us out there, not just in the tech industry — read Elizabeth Warren’s latest book for a wonderful example, who believe that aspiring to Great Work at the expense of everything else in our life isn’t something we have to do. We can do Great Work, we can save the world, and we can do it while hanging out with our friends and families who inspire us. We can accomplish lofty goals while writing the songs that fuel our souls. We are not just our jobs, we are more, and we’re not going to be told we’re crazy for wanting more from life.