The Breakup Your Career (and Identity) Needs

Confession: I am one of those people who likes to be good at everything she does. Not only everything she does, but everything she tries. This is a bit unrealistic, seeing as people are rarely good at something they’ve only just tried. It is the perfectionist in me. The performer.

Since I was a young girl, I have set high standards for just about anything I put time and attention to. In most ways, this has benefited me. It is the reason I was student body president in high school. It is the reason I married an incredible man. It is the reason I have my dream job. Yet, the line between “high” and “impossible” can become gray. Right before my eyes, my identity can become wrapped up in what I bring to the table.

In a desire to perform well and get desired results, this person, me, can get lost. All of a sudden, who I am rises and falls on my successes and failures. When does setting high standards actually become expecting perfection? How do we go about seeing ourselves apart from our results? And at what point should we stop allowing performance to define who we are?

Now. The answer is now. It’s time for performance and identity to break up.

You see, you are not what you do. What you do matters, but it does not sum you up. If our lives center around simply our performance, then we will never stop striving. I don’t know about you, but I want my life to be defined by being, not striving. The opposite sounds exhausting.

I don’t know about you, but I want my life to be defined by being, not striving. The opposite sounds exhausting.

I met for lunch with a good friend one afternoon, and she informed me of her failed relationship. She poured over every detail of the breakup, obsessing over what she could have done wrong. Endlessly, I heard these words: “I just did not do  ______ enough.” There, I saw the problem. Her security and identity had become directly tied to how well she handled the relationship. She no longer saw herself as a beautiful, smart and kind individual who cared about the world. She saw herself in her perceived failure. The relationship did not turn out as planned, and she had trouble accepting herself because of it.

The rest of the lunch consisted of me trying to persuade her of her worth apart from the guy, the breakup, and the mess. It broke my heart, but in this conversation, I also saw myself. I realized how many times I had minimized my value to simply a moment of good or bad performance. I learned that I can care about my work, while also caring for myself. Results can add value without defining me, and failures are just lessons — not who I am.

performance identity

As 2017 carries on, we need to sharpen our awareness of how we associate our identity with our work. When we do this, our lives become more about who we are than what job we have. We can step out of an office after a performance review, confidence and self-love intact, even if we heard things that hurt. Because words like, “Improve this” are different than “You are this.” Ultimately, we are human beings who care about ourselves; we deserve to. The workplace, relationships, and our surroundings can often change like shifting sand. This can make us white-knuckled with fear, or it can remind us that the one thing that does not have to change is how we love ourselves. May we do our very best and let that be enough. May we see ourselves as enough. Let’s balance saying things like, “You did well” with, “You are good.” Let’s take on each success and failure as turns, not finish lines.

Because words like, ‘Improve this’ are different than ‘You are this.’

This year holds unending opportunities. Perhaps you will land that job you’ve been dreaming of. Maybe a friendship is at a crossroads and you feel it ending. Or, maybe you are just really tired from trying so hard. Wherever you land, I encourage you to set yourself free. Not off the hook from caring, but free from being perfect. Free from caring about your performance more than you care about yourself. Don’t get so lost in what you do or what is ahead that you lose who you are in the process. Because when all’s said and done, you drive home from work and lay your head on your pillow, self-doubt only has a voice if you give it one.

I am learning this every day. I look myself in the mirror and choose to not be defined by results, but to embrace the beauty of the process. This has unlocked unmatched security, peace, and self-acceptance in my life.

Performing well is a worthy cause. But doing our best is enough. And you are a worthy cause, too.

How do you separate yourself from your performance? Is it easy or difficult for you?

Images via Carissa Gallo for Darling Issue No. 15

Victoria is a pastor, blogger, and freelance writer who lives in the Bay Area with her husband Reed. She is passionate about womanhood, creativity, spirituality, and learning how to savor life. You can find more about her and read her work over on her website Victoria, Truthfully.

16 COMMENTS
  • Lauren February 6, 2017

    A beautiful article full of critical truths. Victoria, I needed this assurance today. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  • Meredith January 13, 2017

    Thank you so, so much for writing this essay. I felt as though you were taking words right out of my heart! I’m that performer too; I set high standards for myself so much so, that I fear even in my day to day if I don’t do something right, I’m “missing out” on living life fully. Such a lie! So thank you for this beautiful piece of encouragement.

  • Hannah January 12, 2017

    WOW! I desperately needed to read this article. I always say I’m not a perfectionist But I do set crazy expectations for myself, and want to succeed at everything on the first try. so probably a recovering perfectionist…these words are so true.”Since I was a young girl, I have set high standards for just about anything I put time and attention to.” The struggle is real. But – as you said, Improve this is different from you are this. I’v been trying to tell myself a different story. A story of enough and abundance instead of never enough and scarcity. thank you for this thoughtful and honest article!

    -Hannah/ http://www.recovering-hope.blogspot.com

    • Victoria Sowell January 12, 2017

      Hi Hannah! Thank you so much for your comment! I absolutely love the story you are telling yourself in this new season! So powerful!

  • chantelle January 11, 2017

    “Because words like, ‘Improve this’ are different than ‘You are this.’” + “Self-doubt only has a voice if you give it one” ROCKED ME. thank you endlessly for these words.

    • Victoria Sowell January 12, 2017

      Hi Chantelle! Thanks for reading and for sharing. I’m so glad those words mean something to you! Hang onto them tight, because you are not just what you do 🙂

  • Rosie January 9, 2017

    I just want to thank you for uttering these words: “I don’t know about you, but I want my life to be defined by being, not striving. The opposite sounds exhausting.” Such a great philosophy to stand by!

    • Victoria Sowell January 9, 2017

      Hi Rosie! Thanks for reading. I really believe that living that way, is living free.

  • Katherine January 9, 2017

    This is so good! Thank you for your insight. I believe the key to this is a reliance on grace. When we are assured, through grace, that we are unconditionally loveable, we can be confident that who we are and our self worth do not hinge on what we do. This way, we can still have standards of excellence without being burdened by trying to earn anything through performance.

    • Victoria Sowell January 9, 2017

      Hi Katherine! I absolutely agree. Our identity and value completely hinges on grace. Love your comment – thanks for reading!

  • Leslie January 9, 2017

    This article is spot on! Incredibly insightful and resonates completely with me! Especially those golden words at the end….”Because when all’s said and done, you drive home from work and lay your head on your pillow, self-doubt only has a voice if you give it one.” I give my day to God every night and say I did my best. Thank you very much for your putting a voice to a very important thought!

    • Victoria Sowell January 9, 2017

      Hi Leslie! Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. Showing up to everyday with our best, is the best we can do, and will always be good enough! Knowing that God delights in us no matter WHAT the day looks like, is a gift! Have a wonderful week 🙂

  • Kaci Nicole January 9, 2017

    Love this, Tori! Continually learning to separate what I do, from who I am. This was a beautiful encouragement and reminder. I admire your work, and I admire YOU!

    • Victoria Sowell January 9, 2017

      Thank you so much, Kaci! Man, aren’t we always? I’m so grateful that we are not simply what we do. I appreciate your encouragement, and the time you took to read this/comment. You’re the best! 🙂

  • Oh wow, you are just like me. It’s always a lose-lose situation with my mindset. If I don’t achieve something, I feel bad. If I achieve something, I feel I could’ve done better. I’m still learning to be satisfied and not always chasing improvement.

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

    • Victoria Sowell January 9, 2017

      Hi Charmaine! Thank you for reading and for sharing this comment! The inner battle to accept ourselves no matter what our performance looks like, is a real and ongoing one. But it is completely worth the fight to believe in our value apart from our work! I hope you have a wonderful week 🙂

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