Lesson Learned #5: Your job is not your identity.
Job: What You Do—Your Occupation
Identity: Who You Are—Your Qualities, Your Beliefs
For most educators, teaching is much more than a job. It is a calling. When one is called to teach, the lines between what we do every day (our job) and how we define or perceive ourselves (our identity) can be easily blurred. While there is nothing wrong with identifying as an educator, I’ve learned that my work cannot define who I am. It has to be the other way around—who I am must dictate how I do my job.
I realize this may sound confusing, so let me explain. When I reflect back on 30+ years in education, I realize how I often my feelings about self were directly related to how successful I was at teaching, coaching, or administrating. I was worried about what others thought and worked hard to make sure I was successful in their eyes. Pride snuck in and became my motivation. My identity was wrapped up in my job. As a result, I found criticism devastating. Sometimes I would become defensive, and at other times discouraged. It was all about the job, and I lost sight of my true identity.
When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, our identity is in Him. Our self-worth does not have to be determined by our position, status, or occupation. God’s Word has a great deal to say about our identity in Christ.
...you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 2 Peter 2: 9-10
Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy. I Peter 2:10
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12
Recognizing and embracing these truths about our identity can have a tremendous impact on how we approach and accomplish our jobs. Think about it.
As believers we are…
Therefore, we can show…
No job can give us what Jesus can. Identity is something that shifts and grows throughout our lives as we confront new challenges and tackle different experiences. God is about transforming us day by day to become more like Him.
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:18
Don’t get me wrong; our jobs are important. Being an educator is a very rewarding profession, but there is no power in the profession to change your heart, no power to make you into the person God has called you to be. Only a relationship with Jesus Christ can do that. God does not want us to have an identity crisis. He has given us our identity through His Son Jesus.
When our identity is in Christ Jesus,
When our identity is about being more like him,
When our identity is about bringing glory to God,
everything else falls into place. Our jobs will take their rightful place—helping us to fulfill the purpose for which we are called. All of us are called to shine the light of Jesus wherever we are so ultimately God is glorified (Matthew 5:16).
God’s Word coupled with prayer is one of the best ways I know to hang onto our identity in Christ. The Bible is full of instruction to guide us. Here are just a few examples.
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. Colossians 3:23-24
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them…Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:29, 31-32
When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. John 15:10-12
I realize that sometimes it is impossible to separate what we do each day (our job) from who we are (our identity). There is no doubt that our careers and our identity overlap, but our self-worth cannot entirely rest in our occupations. As with life, there are good times and bad times when it comes to our work. However, one thing that never changes is who Jesus is and who He wants us to be. Hold onto His promises—who He says you are.
Your job is not your identity.