Your Work Doesn’t Have to Define You—And That’s OK

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It's no secret that women have plenty on their plate and are giving of themselves constantly in both a personal and professional way, with many women increasingly examining the specific relationship between their occupation and overall identity.

Ponder the question: Who am I if someday, without warning, that aspect of my life went away? What is left?

In the era of the "girl boss," it's imperative to recognize that women are more than the labor we do—and you don't have to feel guilty about embracing that. Your work—no matter how much you love it and how proud of it you are—does not have to define who you are as a person. So, what does?

We sat down with Jackie Green, Host of the "Gray & Green Show" on 105.3 HOT-FM and Mrs. America 2021, to get her perspective on the topic.

Green, who is currently also a nation-wide pageant and life coach for teens and women, emphasizes the importance of having an identity separate from your work.

"As women, we often start to lose ourselves especially when we are trying to juggle motherhood, relationships and careers," she said. "The need to show our colleagues that we can indeed do it all can lead so many of us to forget about who we are and what we care about."

Being in the media, Green finds herself in a unique position, surrounded by several individuals who have multiple "identities" and personas.

"Many times we use stage names, and form characters that we present to our audience. The line blurs between 'Jackie Green'—the person you hear on the radio—and 'Jackie Blankenship' the wife and mother of a busy 6-year-old," she said. "I start to question who I am without 'radio me.' If I don't have that persona, what am I? The fear that people won't like regular me or that I won't fit in if I'm just Jackie instead of 'Jackie Green' is a real problem."

The same goes for many women who are recognizable for the work they do, whether it's on television or simply within their respective fields. And plenty of folks, who are on the outside looking in, might not quite understand.

"When you decide to do something for you that isn't the norm or isn't what has been expected, people won't necessarily be supportive," Green explained. "Change disrupts people and no one likes their 'cheese' moved. That's when you know you've made the right decision. When people are so accustomed to you doing everything and living and breathing this 'field,' then it's more crucial than ever to rediscover 'you' and not just move the cheese, but throw it in the trash."

The reality, Green emphasized, is that women have become accustomed to making work our lives, and when we aren't at work, the rest of our lives are splattered on social media.

Taking a step back is not only encouraged—it's essential.

"There's nothing 'fake' about presenting a professional or business side of yourself and shutting it off at the end of the day to do what matters," she said, acknowledging the guilt that can come with setting those boundaries. "Sometimes, finding you can be hard, especially when you've made your life all about other people."

Green suggests trying doing something you've never done and meeting new people who don't know you for your work.

"Get out of your comfort zone and do a new hobby or something that will bring you meaning that has nothing to do with your job or being a parent," she said.

Being overworked or being overly fixated on "the grind" or "the hustle" can absolutely lead to burnout and potentially bigger problems down the line. Try to be cognizant of what crossing that threshold looks like for you and reflect on how to draw it back to a reasonable place.

"Oftentimes, especially earlier in our career, we think, 'If I do all this now, then later, I will be successful,'" Green said. "But there's always more to be done and new projects with new deadlines."

Of course, we always think about doing more, doing it better, and doing it in a new way. But sacrificing your peace of mind, time with your loved ones and neglecting your brilliant, multifaceted self in the process isn't going to produce the fulfilling outcome one would hope for.

"Don't let guilt become regret later in life. We have one opportunity to live our dreams, and no one's dream is to simply be a workhorse."

If you're feeling a bit lost, take those small steps toward doing what gives you joy that doesn't have anything to do with getting paid. Don't shy away from taking a mental health day here and there and spending quality time with yourself and people who make you belly laugh.

"The most fulfilling thing for me has been learning that Jackie Blankenship has some awesome friends that couldn't care less about Jackie Green," she said. "You'll find that same thing when you step away from the desk and breathe."

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Feb/Mar '23 issue of West Michigan Woman.

 Photo Courtesy of Hailiee Tebow Photography.


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