6 Questions to Ask to Explore Your Identity: Work/School Edition

Disclaimer: This series is about identity/the self in life’s various spheres and through a Western lens. You are all of these things. You are pieces and you are the whole. You are a system, biologically and otherwise. You cannot change a part of you without changing the entirety of the system. Now, let’s break it apart.

Vocabulary to note:

Self-Concept is a cognitive process in that it is simply describing what you are (think: mindful practice of describing your environment without judgement).

Self-Esteem includes your emotional evaluations/judgements

Let’s explore this aspect of your life using some guiding questions.

How do you value work/school?

Is work/school important to you? Maybe that backslash between work and school doesn’t make sense for this question. You can absolutely value school and not value a job. Even though school is work. It depends on your perspective. I’ve put work/school together because school is often the predecessor to work, though this is not necessarily true. About school, you may ask yourself; do you value the structured learning environment that school provides? At work, do you value the kind of working you’re doing? Do you work for a company with values you agree with and does that matter to you? If work is not so high on your list of values, then it may not matter if you and the company you work for have different perspectives.

How is your self-esteem when it comes to work/school?

Do you feel like everyone is better than you when you’re at work or school? Maybe you felt like you knew what you were doing in high school or college, but now that you’re at your job, you feel like you’re lost in a sea of policies and practicality. How capable do you feel you are at work or at school—despite feedback you may receive from your co-workers, peers, teachers or superiors? Maybe you feel like you can do anything that’s thrown at you in these spheres; you feel confident and capable.

What is your self-concept around work/school?

Self-Concept is usually a sentence without self-evaluation. So, instead of, “I feel good about being a good student,” your self-concept would be, “I’m a good student.” Your self-concept about school or work can often come from what you’ve heard others say about you. If you’ve worked at the bank for 20 years, your self-concept may be, “I am a bank teller” rather than someone who has been working at the bank for six months who may not have this self-concept yet, or possibly at all.

What value do you place on yourself when it comes to work/school?

You may highly value work/school, but place a low value on yourself in those realms. For example, you enjoy working at your company, but you don’t feel that your job in the company is very important to you. This may or may not be wrapped up in your self-esteem. Maybe you feel like work is important; it gives you a sense of purpose. You agree with your company’s philosophy, but you do not believe that your role in data entry has much value (it does!).

What level of satisfaction do you have in work/school? How is it related to your self-concept/self-esteem?

Level of satisfaction is asking not only if you like your work, but also if it is fulfilling to you. In fact, you may not like the nitty-gritty of your job, but it may be incredibly fulfilling because it aligns with your values and you value yourself highly in the job. You may feel quite unsatisfied at school as you feel that you are a bad student/everyone is doing better than you (self-esteem) despite achieving praise from two of your professors.

How did you learn your point of view in work/school?

The way you saw grown-ups behave when you were younger affects the way you behave now. Often, if you were financially insecure in childhood, you may be very hard-working in adulthood in order to attain serious financial security.

How can you manage mixed feelings, continue to raise awareness, and incorporate insight?

Maybe work is very important to you, especially because you watched your parents work their butts off in order to provide, so you’re doing the same thing; however, you feel a low level of satisfaction around work. Depending on your financial situation, you may have to manage these mixed feelings, or if life affords it, you may be able to take a leap toward living in a way that is more satisfying for you. Maybe you chose your major in high school but you feel terrible about yourself every time you walk into the lecture hall for your history class (which is in your major) and you know you feel good when you’re in the computer lab, playing with coding. You have this idea of yourself that you are going to be a history teacher because that’s what you decided at 10 years old, but there is now some dissonance between your self-concept and self-esteem. You may work with a professional helper in order to analyze and synthesize these thoughts and feelings.

We’ll continue this exploration in a similar format next week!

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