You are not your job – thoughts on life after redundancy

This is a personal post, and my hope in writing it is that it helps someone else who finds themselves in the same position.

In October 2016 my position at RNZ was disestablished, and I left my job of 35 years. What followed was an identity crisis. What would I do next? What could I do next?

I was the ‘RNZ web guy’, how could I be something else? Every conference I attended, all the calls and emails I got for advice, was as the RNZ Web Guy. At parties, people, who almost always were great fans of RNZ, would grill me at length about the role. I’d optimised my study around that work, and in the last few years, thought about little else.

For years I’d heard it bandied about that men get their identity from their work. I’m sure that there is research to support this, but I didn’t Google it for this post, and I suggest you don’t either. If it is true, it doesn’t have to be.

Here is why.

After leaving RNZ, I had a gap of three months before starting a contract role at Te Papa, a week of it on my back in hospital after some health issues. That is a lot of time to think and reflect, and it turned out to be a blessing.

Most of the skills I had were learned on the job. This fooled me into thinking that those skills were not applicable outside that job. Once I started to talk to people outside RNZ, it was pretty clear that most, if not all, of my skills were transferable. Unless you have very specific domain skills – you work at the Large Hadron Collider for example – the chances are that most of your skills are highly transferable too.

But there was something else.

Like most long-serving staff I got a big farewell event, and was presented with a book put together by staff. It was filled with anecdotes and messages, and this turned out to be my reality check. When I sat down and read it all, along with the other cards and emails from people I’d met over the years, one thing struck me. Many people wrote about their relationship with me rather than the work I did.

It dawned on me that while it is true that most skills are gained on the job, the attributes needed to use those skills, and to make a difference, are not. Your personality, character, and sense of humour, and values such as generosity, integrity, honesty, and compassion have much more impact on who you are in any particular role.

And so, I realised, you are not your job, your job is you. It is a sum of many parts, the least of which is your job title.

The last point I want to make is that you don’t have to go it alone. I had the support of my wife, family and some former colleagues. I also sought professional help.

I made it through. You can too.

(Postscript: When I wrote this I was working at Te Papa as a digital product owner from January 2017. I now work for GS1 New Zealand as Head of Digital Product, which I started in October 2018. )

3 thoughts on “You are not your job – thoughts on life after redundancy

  1. Before I retired (at the age of 68) I canvassed friends, acquaintances, family members to try and form a decision on stopping work. I had been working as a special needs dental surgeon in Auckland hospitals. The job was enjoyable, patients, staff and colleagues thought well of me. Most of my operative work was in operating theatres which suited my dislike of giving injections and causing any pain.
    But I was worried that I may start to fuck up.
    I had observed other older clinicians starting to work past their best, and I hated the idea of being patronised or protected.
    One of the people I asked for advice was a recently retired lawyer. A lady.
    She advised me to keep working -“if you retire, you will lose your professional identity ”
    That’s the whole fucking idea, I thought to myself.

    Please excuse the intemperate language, it’s there fir emphasis and accuracy.
    Good luck at Te Papa.
    PS. I agree about learning on the job but still having transferable skills.
    Retirement for me means less money to spend, but a much happier life. Mind you, we live on Waiheke Island.


  2. There is an interesting literature on identity re-creation when parting from long-hold jobs or relationships. Diane Vaughan, who wrote the famous report on the Challenger Shuttle launch decision, also wrote a book called Uncoupling which describes this process of identity re-formation in the context of divorce. The same principles apply here. Thanks for the insightful post.


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