I was hired for my first “real” job at 19. I had just started college, was a full-time music major, and struggling to grow up and figure life out. Adulting is hard, am I right?! The music program I was part of was an all-or-nothing type of situation. One of the top 3 hardest programs at the school with the expectation that you said yes to every opportunity, every ensemble, every gig. They were paying you scholarships, after all, and how else do you get good at your craft? Most of the time you weren’t even asked if you wanted to be part of a certain musical ensemble or to audition for stuff – you’d simply receive an email saying you were now part of the Symphony Orchestra and practices started tomorrow at 4pm.
IT WAS UNSUSTAINABLE AND UNREALISTIC.
But that’s what I did. I said yes to everything, I took the job off-campus to pay for my overpriced private school education, and I tried to do it all. I had always done it all throughout high school, after all. I was the stereotypical, type-A, overachiever who took all the AP classes, was involved in all the service opportunities, and actively pursued more leadership.
AND THEN I GOT TO COLLEGE AND WAS TOLD DIRECTLY AND SUBLIMINALLY THAT IF I DID THE WORK, IF I SAID YES TO THE OVERCOMMITMENT, THEN I WOULD RECEIVE A PIECE OF PAPER OUTLINING MY SUCCESS AND WOULD THEREFORE GET A GOOD JOB.
For the most part, that rang true. I sought perfection and at the time I thought I was simply living up to what people expected of me, to overachieve and be successful. It took me a lot longer to realize that my motives weren’t altogether altruistic or trying to be the best I could be.
I was motivated by insecurities, insecurities that told me I was not enough on my own so I must overwork, strive for perfection, and not let anyone down or else I wasn’t good enough. So when I had a bad day or work was not going well, I was now a failure. If I had not done as well on an assignment for a class or didn’t complete a project at work in what I considered a timely manner, I was now a failure. Not my task or the thing I had produced, myself. My core identity was ‘failure’.
MY IDENTITY WAS DEEPLY, DEEPLY TIED TO MY WORK SUCCESS.
So I continued to say yes. I signed up for my music ensembles, took a part-time internship on campus, and accepted more work responsibilities because I figured if I could stay busy, give the appearance of success, and trick people into thinking I was ‘good enough’, then my identity would be secure. I guess, in many ways, you could say I was a stereotypical millennial, wrestling through my 20s and trying to find my footing.
UNTIL FINALLY, I CRASHED.
I burned out and I burned out hard. My identity was so tied to what I did instead of who I was that all I knew how to do was get the work done, write the assignment, show up for the project. Time to rest? Nope. Take a day off? Not a chance. And it has taken a long time to recover from that season and to realign my identity not to tasks on a job description or grades for a degree, but in simply being who God created me to be.
Things still aren’t perfect. There are still times I doubt my abilities or have a rough day at work, but a couple of years, some distance from work, and several months of counseling have done wonders for those insecurities and anxieties I battled so much during my early 20s.
I recently began listening to Rachel Hollis‘ podcast, Dais. She ends each episode by asking her guest a series of questions, including one related to the title of the podcast. Rachel addresses the fact that a dais is a platform and she asks each woman if they could stand up on a soapbox and speak a word of encouragement or truth or call out a struggle they see women having, what would it be? It quickly hit me that this would be my dais, my platform. I want to shout it from the rooftops…
YOU ARE NOT YOUR JOB.
You have more to offer than your job description. If you have a bad day, it does not mean you are a bad person. Your entire self-worth is not summed up in the hours you spend in the office or hustling to get work done. And if you make a mistake, it doesn’t mean you are a mistake. If you are a follower of God, your identity is rooted in Christ. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, you are free, you are forgiven, you are covered in grace and peace that does not make sense. There is freedom and hope and goodness in a life that is grounded in Jesus, in a life that abides to Him and not to the fickle way the world defines ‘success’.
When we can find our identity and freedom in simply being, not doing, it means we can turn off the email, put down the to do list, and return the simpler parts of our life. And that kind of life, friends, is certainly something worth fighting for.