Is it What You Do or Who You Are? How Your Identity Changes Your Work

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In the quest for deeper meaning and purpose, there comes a moment when you must go from doing your work because it’s “what you do” to doing your work because it’s a part of who you are.

Steven Pressfield talks about this moment as “turning pro.”

Seth Godin talks about it as “choosing yourself.”

  • It’s when you go from writing here and there to being a writer.

  • When you go from taking pictures to being a photographer.

  • When you go from playing with code to being a developer.

  • When you go from being artsy to being an artist.

  • When you go from helping others train to being a trainer.

  • When you go from working as a nanny to being an early childhood development specialist.

  • When you go from volunteering at your church to being a pastor.

From the outside, these are all subtle changes— maybe even imperceptible.

You’re still doing the same work. You’re not receiving any kind of clear outward recognition.

It’s an internal switch. It’s a choice to put on a new identity that is deeply connected to who you are. It’s the choice to let yourself be something that you’ve felt yourself longing to become. It’s allowing yourself to be identified as having a particular work in the world.

Pressfield writes in The War of Art, "The moment an artist turns pro is as epochal as the birth of his first child. With one stroke, everything changes. I can state absolutely that the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro, and after."

When you make that choice and reframe how you think about yourself and your work, there is no going back. You do your work because that’s what you do. Your identity changes your work.

You write because you’re a writer. You code because you’re a developer. You teach because you’re a teacher.

  • Even if you’re not getting paid for it (yet).
  • Even if others aren’t recognizing your work (yet).
  • Even though you don’t know where this road will lead (you never fully will).
  • Even when you feel like you should do something else (your fear will tell you to).

Making the shift from activity to identity changes everything.

What is that shift for you and have you made it yet?

Share in the comments.

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