Disentangling employment from self-worth
Guest Post by Sharon Overfelt
Liscensed Professional Counselor Intern, supervised by Katrena Hart, LPC-S
Sharon is my dear friend from a two-year training program for Hakomi Therapy. I admire her kindness, cross-cultural perspective (she's Israeli, Latina, and American!), and her inquisitiveness. We share a tendency to be overly industrious, and in the time I have known her, I have seen Sharon become a huge champion of rest and balance. I love you, Sharon!
Being unemployed is a tricky place to be.
If you’re like many people where you held a job for a significant time and one day find yourself either unemployed or under-employed or perhaps with a disability that doesn’t allow you to be employed any longer, then you would know that it’s not just a matter of finding a new job.
This period of time is a delicate one. It can truly shake a person’s identity.
For many of us, who we are, is what we do. It’s sort of a blended association. And most of the time when we are busy enough, we don’t notice that our sense of worth comes from our employment or our daily occupation. So, one day you find yourself unemployed or perhaps not as busy as you thought you’d be transitioning to a new career.
Suddenly, there is a lot of time to think and feel.
Some of those feelings can be uncomfortable. You may find yourself thinking some scary thoughts like:
- No one needs me anymore.
- Who am I if I can’t produce?
- I have no value cause I’m not doing anything.
- I’m useless.
This period can shake our foundation and really get us to question entire life choices. Some people resort to addiction or the last resort, suicide. This is how powerful these thoughts and feelings can truly be. A person’s entire sense of value all hangs on whether I am producing.
If you’re in the process of applying for jobs, the process can intensify those thoughts and feelings.
I can send 50 job applications and receive many rejections and those rejections can feel very personal. We can tell ourselves that it’s OK, we’re not the only candidates, that it doesn’t mean we’re not good enough. But in your gut, you still might be feeling unwanted, rejected, ignored, unworthy, invaluable. Those feelings are difficult to endure, and many of us just want to keep on doing something in order not to feel them.
But perhaps this is exactly why being under-employed is the time to pause and do a little bit of house cleaning; to check into core beliefs and find out what unemployment means to you:
- Am I truly my job?
- Does my work define who I am? Or Is it a separate part of me?
- What is my value outside of my work?
- Do I have internal value that is not dependent on what I do or how I do it?
- Do I have value just because I am human?
All of these questions are tough to answer. We might agree that we should have internal value that is independent of what we do. But, does your body really agree? This is a good time to truly inspect core beliefs around worthiness. To do so, we have to allow for some time of ‘not doing’, of just being, in order to be present with those difficult feelings.
We live in a society that rewards productivity above anything else. But when its rewards are blinded to what it means to be human, then it becomes dangerous.
It risks forgetting how human beings are relational and derive love and belonging just by being with each other and enjoying each other’s company. It risks forgetting the natural stages of life where we are dependent on others as babies or when elderly or in disability. It risks forgetting that we are first human BEINGS, not human DOINGS.
My wish for each and every one of us is that you know that you are valuable and worthy.
To know and feel your value from your insides at any given moment, regardless of circumstances in your life. To know that external events cannot shake who you are.
This guest post is part of our Women and Their Work series, where we will explore how our relationship to work affects our vitality.
Ideally, work would be an expression of our values. It would allow us to leverage our time, energy, and skills for the things we want and need. And ideally, we would have the time and energy left over to enjoy those things.
But in reality? Work often saps the vitality right out of us. And not being able to work can do the same.
Women and Their Work will showcase stories of real women who refuse to sacrifice their vitality and the creative ways they support themselves.
You are not alone!
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides "24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals."