Engineer or Philosopher? What you do vs. who you are

Separating your career from your essence in today's volatile economy. Photo: Composite/Ponick

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2013 — Job stability is something many of us must consider. We should not question who we are. A police officer is also a basketball coach for his kids. A corporate executive is also a Red Cross volunteer. A musician is also a black belt karate instructor. 

Success at work does not equate to being a good person, however. Conversely, difficulty at work does not diminish who you are.  

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How do you identify yourself? 

The next time you meet someone, notice how that person identifies. Most of us do not realize how we are identifying ourselves. We agree we are much more than our occupation, but what do we lead with? Instinctively, we identify ourselves by our job or occupation. We may be a parent, president of a club, a committee member, a member of a choir, a birdwatcher, or a sports fan. 

One way to learn more about yourself is to identify your values. Your values are who you are at your core. Knowing them is highly effective when navigating through your day. To define yourself, know who you are and what you stand for, know your boundaries and limits, and know when you will say yes or no

Keep in mind that whether you have changed jobs, or may not be working for a number of reasons, or starting your own business, you are bringing who you are wherever you go. In other words, you take with you your skills and talents, your creative ideas, your entrepreneurial energy, and whatever else you bring to the table. 

If you are forced to find a new job, remember that your competence and skills did not stay home or remain at that old job. Hopefully, you had made tangible contributions and measurable results where you previously worked. You bring with you the confidence and the knowledge of those past productive accomplishments. 

There are two groups of people who may have a tougher time working through transitions and thus might tend to lose track of who they are at their core. First, there are those among us who have been identified as type “A” personalities. Next, there are some who wear uniforms to work. 

Type “A” people typically are concerned with their work 24/7 and, unfortunately, often do not develop a full and fulfilling personal life. These individuals more often identify themselves by their work rather than by anything else.  

In a time of transition then, which today is much more likely than it was in the past, these individuals may need to be reminded to refocus on who they truly are at their core in order to avoid the loss of self-esteem they may experience with the loss of a job, as well as avoiding other negatives that might hold them back in the “bigger picture” of life. One suggestion for Type-A individuals in transition would be to join groups or clubs of people with like backgrounds and interests. 

People who wear uniforms to work and have done so for any extended time—such as those in the military, athletes, police, and so on—have to deal with that extra identifying issue: the uniform! 

When you dress with a uniform every day for many years, what I wear can prove to be a temporary yet compelling issue. If someone is in the status of employment transition, the prior job’s uniform can no longer be used to help define them. The history of that identity should clearly be shed, although that’s not always easy. 

A former client of mine, a police officer, after years of working on the force, was ready to move on and looking forward to his next career. When he went to get dressed to go to a networking event, however, he suddenly found himself at a loss as to just what to wear. Sound silly? Trivial? It’s not. 

After years of putting on a uniform—one that signaled both recognition of his societal role as well as his authority—my client said he simply went blank when confronting current reality. Of course that was temporary. He soon focused on his real identity, who he was, and he found that the new wardrobe he’d built not only enhanced his self esteem, but brought out what he call his “fun” self.    

Do not allow the current economy and its fallout to redirect the you that you are. Understand that most people do not embrace change easily. This is because our primitive brains are wired to resist change, even when change is positive. 

Transition means stepping out of your comfort zone, which is hard for most of us to do. For that, I recommend taking baby steps. Typically with transition there is a change in your routine, followed by what if questions such as, what if this happens? What if that happens?  Understand further that uncertainty can heighten anxiety. It is ironic that the one thing we can always count on is change.      

Do not allow transitions in your life to redirect the essence of who you are.  You, like many, will face changes and transitions. Do not lose the distinction between who you are from what you do. If you keep this distinction foremost in your conscious mind, you will get you closer to your real life purpose and the reason why you are here on Earth.   


Certified business, life, and leadership coach Susan Commander Samakow is currently president ICF Metro DC. Active as a speaker and facilitator, she also serves as Community Content Producer at WUSA9TV in Washington, DC. Visit her web site at




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Susan Samakow

Susan Commander Samakow, PCC, is a Certified Business, Life and Leadership Coach. Susan focuses on life and career transition, business and leadership, and confidence and resilience strategies. Susan is also a speaker and facilitator, as well as a Community Content Producer for WUSA 9 TV. She is the former president of the ICF Metro DC Chapter, the largest in North America. Susan’s clients are individuals, any size business and the government. Visit Susan’s website: Susan is on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In.


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