Does your career define you?


Fact Box

  • Merriam-Webster defines a career as “a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling.” 
  • A Pew Research Center report from 2016 revealed that 30% of Americans view their work as “just a job to get them by,” while those who view their jobs as more of a career tend to be “at least 30 years old and well educated, with higher incomes and holding full-time, salaried jobs.”
  • A recent Toy Association survey revealed that 76% of parents want their kids to end up in a “STEM-related career or field,” and that parents believe “the ideal age to get kids started on their future career path” is age 5 ½. 
  • The “most important” source of meaning in American adult lives, according to Pew Research Center findings from 2018, was “spending time with family,” while “job and career” ranked last.

Samir (Yes)

That old saying ‘money makes the world go round' is true. In simpler terms, it means that money is a motivating factor for many things in life. And often, one's career choice reflects how much money is important to someone. The bigger the career, the more respect one garners from peers and co-workers and the better quality of life one can achieve. 

Take the perception regarding white-collar jobs vs. blue-collar ones. Glassdoor defines white-collar jobs as those 'in which a professional works in an office environment and performs professional tasks that require specific training or education.' These jobs pay more than vocations based on manual labor because white-collar jobs indicate that one has had to achieve a certain level of education and refinement in order to be successful. Whereas with menial jobs, anyone can do them, and the pay reflects that. The point is that whichever end of the career spectrum one falls on reveals much about that person's background and ambitions. 

Aside from whatever financial ambitions one harbors, career contributions and accomplishments are defining factors. With such examples as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs--who are closely associated with the tech industry--the average person could name what innovations each is famous for and, at the same time, have zero insight about their respective personalities. Accomplishments matter. In these cases, their personal lives didn't make as many waves as each man's contributions to the world.

Chosen careers also clue people in to one's values and interests. Lawyers are generally disliked, while doctors are usually respected. There's a reason why society embraces these preconceived notions. It's because one's career choice often reflects who a person is.

Autumn (No)

It is wrong to say that a career defines a person for the simple reason that many people cannot choose their own careers. 

For some, socio-economic status limits opportunity, while for others cultural factors predetermine vocational choices. Further, some may choose jobs that don't align with what they truly want for themselves because of reasons outside their control--like having to provide for their family or getting caught in the trap of 'golden handcuffs.' 

Additionally, a woman might forgo a career altogether in order to raise a family, and she is certainly no less defined than a person who keeps theirs. 

The belief that a career can 'define' someone could be a symptom of internalized capitalism, along with the intrinsic need to be productive in our daily lives regardless of the cost. The reality for many people is that they feel their careers do define them because they take up such a significant part of their lives, but it's important to remember that this is not the case.

We are better off finding passion and fulfillment outside of our careers in things we can actually choose for ourselves, like our friends, spirituality, and hobbies. Even then, as studies indicate, no one thing can define a person. We are a combination of the things we love, how we treat people, and a million moments that can't be exchanged for a paycheck. After all, jobs and careers can change at any moment, but they can't change who you are.

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