Relationships are incredibly important to us as humans. Belonging and having social connections create stability and purpose in our lives. In fact, our physical and mental health depends on the strength of those social connections. Being a connected, social creature is in our DNA. We know there is safety among the pack. We grow and flourish when surrounded by love and support. We reach our biggest goals and most audacious dreams with others in our corner, cheering us on.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” – Brene Brown
Many of us relate a large part of who we are with what we do. We do it at home, getting wrapped up with being a parent and a partner. We do this at work, speaking out about our accolades being proud of our sacrifices and accomplishments. The opposite happens, as well. Overwhelm and stress are created at home and work when the tasks we do become personal. Work influences our emotions and behaviour.
It is why, as employees, we look for work cultures and environments which support us. We long to be engaged and connected at work and it is one of the top reasons why we stay with the same employer. We love our companies and our jobs when we are emotionally invested in our work (The Great Game of Business, Top Ten Reasons Employees Stay ).We also remain at a company when we feel we make a difference. When we make a personal contribution, and we are a part of something special, we enjoy our jobs more. Our values and ideals become mirrored and entwined within the company’s values. It is a ton of emotional investment.
So, what happens then when we no longer have one of our most connected relationships?
When you quit or leave a job unexpectedly, we are cast out of our pack and left to for ourselves. Our largest social network is wrapped up with the people we work with and it can be devastating.
In Canada, management career/occupations have a tenure, on average of just over 12.5 years (Statica.com, Average job tenure in Canada in 2018, by occupation (in months)). That’s a significant amount of time at a company; enough to build some pretty strong bonds. Take a moment to think about how connected we become with our company and co-workers. How do you identify with your company? Do you own company clothing you wear when not at work? Decals on the car you drive? Maybe even the car you drive represents the company you work for. The food you eat? The coffee you drink? The technology you use? Even when we choose to leave a place of employment, we are often not prepared for the change ahead. When I left my career at a not-for-profit organization, I left my family. Twenty-two years for the same company and with many of the same co-workers. I was deeply connected to the place where I grew up. It is where I built my career, my credibility and my authority. When I headed into the transportation industry, I was not prepared for what I left behind. My circle of influence shrunk, and my social connections severed. I went from being an alpha to omega in a span of two weeks, trying to navigate a new industry, culture, social structure and environment without support. I took some pretty big hits to my confidence at first, but I started to realize how much of who I was got wrapped up in what I did.
This type of identity crisis is going to happen. Why? Because we are creatures of habit and, as I said earlier, it is in our DNA. So, instead of fighting our nature, let’s use our need for connection and safety to expand our roots. Let’s build a strong foundation so we don’t topple over when the hurricane winds come sweeping over us. Building a network of roots is how trees weather the storm and it is how you can stay attached to your identity.
Growing roots is invisible work at first, but the effects are lasting. Whether you are considering leaving your job or staying put, consider these tips to a strong foundation.
Have other activities outside of the 4 main roles you play in your life. What are you doing that doesn’t involve your job or your family? Seriously.
Keep work relationships at work. If you do have a social relationship with someone you work with, create healthy boundaries about work and non-work time.
Expand your professional network to contain people outside your place of employment. Heck, even outside your industry. Build a strong network of like-minded individuals. This will not only expand your foundation and social circles but also expand your mind and your opportunities.
While expanding your foundation, think of who you are more than what you do.
Oftentimes we default to what. Think about the last time you introduced yourself. What did you say? How did you describe who you are to a group of strangers?
Did it sound something like this…
Hi, I’m <insert your name here>,
I’m a <parent>
I’m a <job description>
I’m a <spouse>
I’m a <pet owner>, <car owner>, <homeowner>
And I love long walks and reading and spending time by myself.
Or something along those lines.
The immediate default to describing ourselves are the roles we play. We describe who are we in relation to other people. Remember, this is our natural default. It will take a little effort to expand and change your perspective.
My challenge to you is to write an introduction without describing your role.
Refrain from using the statement “I’m a….”. It is a way to challenge your perspective and to become aware of how you identify yourself. Show the world who you are. Be genuinely curious about who you are and courageous enough to share.