John (not his real name) wore his employer's colors on Facebook like a badge of honor, working for one of the country's top telcos fresh out of college, until functioning as three workers for the salary of one made him question where he was.
Two months into what he thought was his dream job, he began hating it. It was too much work even for the greatest time manager in the world, he told reportr. As this article was about to be published, he said he was preparing to resign.
"I feel like it’s something I’m supposed to love kasi I’ve always been very interested in it. But it's been taking up so much of my personal time that I started questionning if this what my life is supposed to be," he said.
Even with very quick lunch breaks and working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in his ideally 8-to-5 job, its demands just keep piling up. John just couldn't keep up.
His entry level salary as a marketing person wearing three hats is only enough to cover basic necessities, leaving him with barely any money and time to sustain his passions.
"For me, what you do with your time or what you do for a 'living', it becomes your identity, eh. If with your time, you're spending doing the things you're passionate about or you're with your family, then that’s part of your identity. Pero gustuhin ko man 'yun, work already takes up so much of my time kaya parang personality ko na siya kasi wala akong time to do other things," he said.
John shares the dilemma of many in high-pressure jobs, where the fine boundary between work and life is obliterated by a culture where the measure of worth or success is tied to one's career.
Why is this the case?
"Society has trained us to look at each career differently with various associations and assumptions attached to it, such as, one job being better than the other, another job is for the brainy ones only, and so on and so forth," life coach Myke Celis told reportr.
It provides a certain validation for people, he said. "So, too often we introduce ourselves when meeting another person for the first time using what we do for a living. This is because we believe that our value is attached to what we do and how much we earn in the process," he said.
John admits feeling pressured about committing to a career in corporate for the rest of his life, fully aware of its perceived glamor. Yes, a stable job pays the bill, allowing corporate slaves to "live" the lives they want, but organizations are built in such a way that making money comes first, well-being of employees too often last.
While companies can boast of core values and claim to embody a certain culture, rarely do they succeed in making workers fulfilled in their lives.
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"Minsan, I ask myself, 'do I really want to be here or am I just working for this company kasi I like the prestige?' Lalo na if you’re working under capitalist structures, they really put a productivity value in human life. That’s the work force at its core," he said.
John said this saddens him, especially given this irony: as a college student, he actively participated in mass demonstrations in support of better working conditions for Filipinos workers. He knows there are things he could do such as demand higher pay or look for a better company that pays and treats their workers well altogether.
But today, a few days before bills are again due, he has work to do. At least, he has since learned this: "I don’t want my workplace to be my sole personality. It's okay if my work is not necessarily something I love doing the most in life kasi for most of us, especially those who have families to feed and bills to pay, it's really just a source of income," he said.
This, of course, is easier said than done, as John is aware of how others his age were privileged enough to pursue their passion as a career, or whose jobs respect them enough to live their best lives.
But what's important is that he now knows better than pressure himself with societal expectations. "Kasi oo nga, ang ganda ng company ko, ang ganda ng title, at ang shiny ng pangalan pero I’m not even paid fairly, I don’t have personal time, and my boundaries aren’t respected. So what’s the point? At the end of the day, i'm the one who's working the job and living this life," he said.
How to make your job not your personality
When one suspects their identity is too enmeshed in their work, Celis, the life coach, said they may start with the question: "Outside of what I do, who am I as a person?"
"If you can't think of a clear answer, then it's time to work on yourself as you re-discover who you really are and what is really most important for you in life outside of work," he said, noting that this is actually the journey of his clients who are celebrities, top executives and highly successful people who have been defined by their job titles and achievements for the longest time: knowing their authentic selves outside of their work clothes and offices -- that valuable person dressed for bed, right before going to sleep.
"There is life outside of work and people wouldn't go to your funeral talking about how good you were at work or how many promotions you've had," he said.
As the late American writer Toni Morrison in a New Yorker essay once wrote: "You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.”