I’m doing my PhD in the area of identity & work. Very basically, identity is all those things that make up ‘who we are’ at any given point in time. There are are a few conceptual frameworks for how we manage our identities (I’m of the mind that we have multiple-identities that we’re always managing). For example, there’s the social-identity perspective (essentially identity is made up from the groups we identify with), there’s the role-identity perspective (identity is defined by the roles we play ie parent, sister, employee, boss), and there is the psychodynamic perspective perspective (still learning that one).
What initially interested me in the area of identity was watching my friends, post-business school, shape their identities/self-concepts according to industry (or firm) expectations. For some – including myself – this lead to internal conflict and almost a crisis point (“is this really want I wanted to do with my life?”). For others, there was no question – identity and self-concept become tightly linked to one’s business card. Was it that they had found the perfect job for their identity? Or was it that they had moulded some part of their selves to fit with the organization?
Again, I confronted the topic when I moved to China and lost my professional identity. I didn’t think it would be so hard to be away from work. No longer could I introduce myself as “hi, I’m Alyson and I work at xxx”, I could just say “hi I’m Alyson and I dont have a job right now”. That hurt. I was embarrassed and somewhat ashamed and I was desperate for others to not think that ‘wife of Achim’ was my identity. Why did I place so much value on that ‘work’ piece of my self? More importantly, was this a choice? And if I choose to make work such a big piece of my ‘self’, does the work I do represent who I really am?