Detaching self-worth from work

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This second instalment of the self-worth and work topic will focus on the people who are actively working on detaching their self-worth from their work. I have struggled with this task ever since I dipped my toes into freelance journalism in 2020. I am slowly unlearning this practice, and have been doing so successfully, much to the point when I file copy, I actively file the piece in my mind for structure.

My journalism consumed my life as the world shut down and we were forced to lockdown. It was by large the only thing that occupied me thus it came to define me. As soon as I’d wake up each day, work was at the forefront of my mind – even when I had days off. I was slowly heading towards burnout; I felt it each day and I still feel it sneaking up on me now. Mostly because of my love for work compounding all reason most of the time. I love what I do and that can be my biggest downfall.

I have found ways to manage this looming feeling of exhaustion and most importantly detach my self worth from my work. For example, I try not to let work bleed into the time I want to be around my family or friends. I have not experienced burnout because of how I separate my work life from my personal life. I understand the privilege that comes with finding work as a freelancer, but we simply cannot work every hour of every day — that is a wholly unrealistic notion which I believe the freelance industry perpetuates unknowingly.

I write this while I’m on my leave, ironically — I have not been working for three days and while it has been blissful, I still find my mind obsessing over the work I could be doing. I am reminding myself that I am not my work, my work does not define me and that I should aim to be more present. I am a work in progress but detaching myself completely from work when I am enjoying myself doing other things is what is helping. Sure, I check an odd email sometimes, but I am doing so less frequently.

Sravya is a freelance artist who has reckoned with similar feelings of attaching her self-worth intrinsically to the work she produces. Sravya suggest boundaries are key to her relationship with the work she produces.

“My mindset has definitely changed and has allowed me to be more professional, temper my emotions in the workplace and more importantly, ensure the client is completely satisfied with my deliverables.”

Criticism can be one of the hardest pills to swallow — especially as a freelance creative when we pour a lot of our own ideas into the work we produce, but Sravya’s view towards this element of work is refreshing. “Subjective critiques are a reality of a creative career path.” Constructive criticism is key to growth and development in any career — plus it can help you to build a better business. It’s best not to take such comments personally and see them as a driving force to create. 

Sravya talks about the journey of her mindset changes. “I would find it hard to recognise that their comments were not a personal attack on my talents.”

This is a feeling that resonates with many in the freelance community — a process of unlearning these limiting beliefs must be practiced in order to build a business we find ourselves loving rather than simply surviving in. 

Money, mindset and business coach Joseph James has been coaching freelancers for 2012 and says that he says attaching self-worth to work is a common pattern. “One of the most common things I see is undercharging and over delivering which often comes from a place of wanting to be liked and approved of.”

Joseph recommends embracing the mindset of “you deserve to be paid for your time and energy”. He continues saying that setting clear boundaries don’t only benefit you, but also your clients. 

“Set clear money goals for yourself and your work,” is Joseph’s main piece of advice. He adds that as if you are self-employed, it is your responsibility to give yourself a pay rise — you deserve it.

Despite being our own bosses we sometimes feel crushed with the weight of responsibility. Our work should not define our self-worth, personal klaxons on Twitter announcing new job roles should not fill us with envy. We are moving at our pace and that is okay. We are no more less worthy if we’re not constantly on all the time.

This is something author of self-help book ‘From Narcissism To Nirvana’ that helps to directly tackle this issue, Esther Hunter talks about. “We can become jealous of people we actually love, simply because we believe they’re doing more of the things which will earn them the positive feedback we have unfortunately become reliant on.”

She says “a skewed sense of our value” could feed directly into the complex of attaching self worth to work. She adds “We think ‘doing’ more of what we were praised for early on, will ensure we keep experiencing positive emotion but likely this leads to burnout and lack of identity outside of what we ‘do’.”

Esther adds that knowing yourself and your values, equates to action based on passion and care for yourself — a type of care that cannot be categorised by metrics. “If you try to quantify your worthiness by external markers, you will suffer needlessly whenever whatever you’ve conflated your identity with changes in your life.” 

Thus, positive changes must be made to break out of this cycle, changes that often equate to setting your boundaries and goals firmly and sticking to them. This will allow you to create a sustainable business and lead you on the path away from the dreaded burnout.

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