For many of us, career ranks as a top priority in our lives. We care about our jobs deeply, pushing ourselves to continually work harder to ascend to higher levels of success. We care so much about our work that it becomes ingrained in our identity and self-image.
However, this work-first mentality has its downsides. Those of us who pride ourselves on being career-oriented can get so wrapped up and emotionally invested in our jobs that it negatively affects our overall happiness and mood.
While there’s nothing wrong with caring about your career, problems arise when you let work control your feelings and behaviors. If you slip into the realm of being too emotionally invested in your professional identity, there comes a point when it brings you down more than it lifts you up.
Before this happens to you, look for these signs that may signal it’s time to pull back and gain some perspective.
1. You internalize criticism.
Do you feel crippled and crushed when your supervisor or co-workers give you constructive — but hard-to-hear — feedback?
Sometimes, we hear feedback as criticism. But when your boss asks for data to back up your findings in a report, it doesn’t mean you’ve done a bad job or that you’re not deserving of a promotion. Criticism isn’t indicative of failure; rather, it’s often a sign you’re pushing yourself and taking on new challenges.
Instead of reacting defensively, learn to accept feedback for what it is: an opportunity to learn and perform better the next time. In fact, many managers value employees who can respond swiftly and professionally to constructive criticism over those who never make mistakes in the first place.
2. You take work home with you.
If you lug your work laptop home each evening like a security blanket, obsessively check emails in the middle of dinner with friends, or skip family get-togethers in favor of work that comes up, chances are you’re putting your job before your overall well-being.
While caring about your work enough to keep an eye on things outside standard business hours seems like a great way to convey that you’re proactive and dedicated (and is sometimes necessary), doing so repeatedly can take its toll. It’s absolutely essential to maintain your work-life balance — both for your personal sanity as well as your professional sharpness. If you can’t fully disconnect after work, learn how to bring work home the healthy way to avoid burnout.
3. You flip out in high-pressure situations.
In today’s fast-moving workplace, plans change, companies pivot, and your team’s priorities may readjust daily. If you feel overwhelmed, paralyzed, or completely thrown for a loop when those changes happen at the office, take pause.
For example, let’s say your team is in the middle of a huge project and someone gives his or her two weeks notice. You may react in a dramatic, sky-is-falling manner. If you’re a chronic people-pleaser, maybe you launch into panic and assume responsibility for picking up all the loose ends by yourself, sacrificing your weekend plans to put in 12-hour days. When others try to help or disagree with your methods, you snap at them. But by micromanaging and consolidating control, you’re actually limiting your team’s ability to function. Without perspective, you risk making bad decisions that could compromise your success.
In situations like this, take a step back and accept that there are many things — in work and in life — that you simply can’t control. What you can do is learn to master your reactions: Wish your colleague well in his or her new job, work with your boss to implement a solid transition plan, and focus on successfully completing the project as a team.
4. Your identity is your job title.
We all value career success and our professional identities. However, hanging your self-worth solely on being good at your job can become problematic.
This can subconsciously manifest itself as, for example, constantly talking about your job, regardless of the context, or immediately jumping to describing your job title and responsibilities when asked to describe yourself and how you spend your time. But by tying your identity too closely to your job title, your perspective becomes narrow, focused on getting ahead in this one particular area of your life while neglecting the larger whole.
If this sounds familiar, get a healthy dose of perspective by considering what really matters to you — aside from your career (here’s a free workbook on how to do that). What are your talents? How do you like to spend your free time? What causes do you care about? Your self-worth comprises so much more than what you do for a living.
5. Your relationships are rocky.
If your friends or significant other make not-so-subtle jokes about your workaholic habits, or if your relationships are characterized by frequent arguing or increasing distance, investigate where that tension is coming from. It’s possible that you could be projecting work stress onto your relationships.
While jobs will come and go, your relationships are the lifelines that can buoy you through rough patches. Keep in mind that the people you care most about are usually on your side and will support you — you can’t always say the same about your job.
While caring about your job is an enviable quality, being too emotionally invested in your career can be detrimental to both your professional and personal goals. By noticing these signs and taking steps to prevent burnout before it starts, you can keep your level of emotional investment in your job in check so that you can thrive on a holistic level and not just in your career.