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How To Separate Your Self-Worth from Your Work, According To An Expert

While it might be the first thing a person asks you on a date, or what you put so much pressure on yourself to achieve during college, it’s so important to remember that you are not defined by your job title. Separating your self-worth from your work can seem like a daunting task, especially if you put a lot of time, energy, and value into your career. Not only can seeing yourself within the lens of “work life” become exhausting, but it can also impact the way you see yourself outside of the office. And you don’t deserve that.

Her Campus spoke to Darlene Johnson, the Director of External Relations in the Career Center at Hofstra University, who received her master’s degree in career development, about making the distinction between your self-worth and your work, and how separating the two can lead you to living a healthier, more productive lifestyle.

try less competition and more comraderie

So much of our self-worth comes from comparing ourselves to others. It’s hard to feel good about where you are career-wise when it seems every time you log onto Facebook someone is working at their dream job, or just landed a competitive position overseas.

Johnson likes to remind newly-working professionals that life is not a competition: “Just because someone seems like they have ‘the perfect job,’ maybe that job is not, in reality, perfect for them. Learn from others, especially those who have positions that you would like to have later on. And having a mentor is always a good idea.”

As your continue on your working journey, try to remember that others’ successes do not take away from your own, and there is no timeline to when you should be reaching certain milestones. Talk to your closest friends to see if they are having any of the same struggles as you and, if necessary, just delete that “everything’s-great-my-life-is-perfect” acquaintance you went to high school with from Instagram. You might just be glad you did.


Society has a way of tricking you into believing you have to act and behave a certain way. Sometimes, we can find ourselves wondering: Should I have applied to that job? What would’ve happened if I took that other position? I really should’ve done ___ instead. This constant second-guessing does nothing for us besides making us doubt our self-worth, and wonder if we’re enough. 

Jess Lively, the writer and host of podcast The Lively Show, facilitates several online classes for women about living a life full of intention and defining your own happiness. Lively likes to remind people who are struggling that, “There is no such thing as doing ‘enough’ or ‘not enough.’ There is only ‘what is.’ Allowing what is to be the perfect unfolding at this moment in time, and then seeing what comes next, is the best way to navigate the uncertain waters of the future- without the stress and ‘shoulding’ that comes when we decide what our reality ‘must be.’ This is particularly true when the current situation does not match out expectations.” By rejecting societal norms that tell us at a certain age we should hit a certain personal or career-related milestone, we are choosing to accept and value exactly who we are.

Next time you find yourself saying, “I should have been chosen to go to that week-long conference in another state,” ask yourself if that conference is something you actually wanted to go to and would have enjoyed deep down, or if it’s more that you feel like you should want to go to? Identify and silence the inner critic that tells you what you think and do is not right or enough. 

When you start doubting that your self-worth isn’t tied to your work, make a list of three things you love about yourself, or ask if you’d ever say what you say to yourself to a friend – because the answer is probably no. 

keep your personal life, personal

The temptation to check your email one last time at night can be overwhelming, but when you really never turn work “off,” two things can happen: You end up just being mildly productive all day, instead of extremely focused when you’re actually at work or you start to put work over other things that matter. It’s easy to feel like your job is taking over your whole life when you don’t remember to leave the business at the office. Make sure to spend your time outside of work pursuing the other priorities in your life and giving your attention to the people who matter most.

Similarly, having a hobby outside of work can do wonders for your self-image. Johnson explains how being a professional and mother of two can mean a hectic schedule, but she still finds ways to be a part of the organizations that mean the most to her. “I volunteer with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) because that is a cause that I feel strongly about, and I previously sang in a band as a hobby.  It’s important to have interests outside of your job.  For me, it’s especially important to show my daughters the value of giving back to the community in a way that makes sense for you.”

Whether it be going to a kickboxing class after work, or spending a Saturday taking photographs around your neighborhood, don’t give up your passions that aren’t related to your occupation. Finally reaching a new personal record or finishing that painting you’ve been working on can give you the boost to brave the workplace with a new, more confident mindet.


Say it with me, now: Not having the “dream job” you envisioned you would have in your twenties does not make you a failure. And, if you aren’t excited about where you’re at, it’s not permanent. 

Johnson says to remember that each job is a stepping stone to the next opportunity. “Look at what you can gain from your current position, even if it is just that you have made one important networking connection,” she says. “Then, while you are at that position, do what you can do learn new skills, or make connections that will help you get to where you would rather be.” Talk to your fellow co-workers about why they enjoy their jobs, update your resume often to include new achievements you’ve made at your job and attend any networking events offered. 

Appreciate who you are, and where you are in your life 

Every day you show up to work, you are learning something new and gaining valuable experience that will help you down the road. Not only is that a win in terms of your career, but it’s also essential when it comes to your personal growth and well-being.

“Have people in your life that can remind you of your accomplishments,” Johnson suggests. “Keep a journal of your successes so you can refer to them when needed.” With so much constantly changing in your young adulthood, it’s easy to get caught up in planning and wishing for the future, but remember the only moment you can really live in is the present one. So, give yourself credit even for the smallest victories, both in your career and outside the office. If you spoke up and made a valuable contribution at work that day, cook a nice dinner and celebrate. 

Associating your career status too closely with your self-worth is a dangerous game, especially in your twenties.  Your current position in the work hierarchy does not translate to your position in life, because each one of us brings a unique combination of skill, experience and perspective to the table that no one else can offer. Define yourself by your beliefs, opinions, what you love to do and who you love to be around during your 24 hours and not just what you do for your 9 to 5.

JMU alumni making her way into the "real" world. Passion for spending time with my large Italian family, running and eating any and all desserts I can get my hands on.