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Of Layoffs and Self-worth: You are not what you do



By "The Doctor" J J Bucci March 12th 2024


I have for many years attended Business mixers and networking events. I go to build relationships with other business professionals; and am always intrigued to find out exactly what people do. I love listening to attendees tell their stories, describing their job and sometimes giving a short version of their business sales pitch. For those who are engaged deeply in their work, it is always a joy listening to people express a sense of satisfaction over things that they have accomplished. According to one source, in a survey by the employee engagement company WorkProud, 43% of US full-time employees responded that they had the highest level of pride in their work (Segal, 2021).

 

Our work is often about doing, because that is why we are paid. Our pay is not a reward for our doing, like a dog who is rewarded for doing his business outside. Our pay is remuneration for the labor effort that we exert to accomplish different tasks. The greater the task and responsibility, the greater the pay. That’s the way pay systems work. We are not paid for being, and this becomes very evident when a person loses their job. Suddenly, they stop doing things for pay. Because people are so accustomed to doing, and all their talk of their jobs is about what they do, it becomes more difficult to adjust to not doing any longer. But our lives are not about what we do, but about who we are inside.

 

The Christian faith reminds me that my self-worth is not in what I do, but in who I am; and more importantly, in Whose I am. According to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You are not your own, for you were brought with a price (ESV).” I am a child of the Father, who bought me with a ransom paid by His Son Jesus (1 John 3:1-2). My only role, as the Apostle Paul writes, is to “walk as children of light… and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8, 10).  

 

This has helped me a little bit as I have grown older to see my job as more than just an accumulation of the tasks that I do. My job is not who I am. I enjoy my job tremendously. I love the interaction with colleagues and students. But my life is more than my job. This thought was recently echoed in an editorial in the February/March edition of Fortune magazine (Shontell, 2024). Discussing the blight of tech layoffs and the massive failure of once darling unicorn start-ups now failed, editor Alyson Shontell wrote, “You are not your job. And you owe it to yourself to maintain your mental and physical wellness” (Shontell, 2024).

 

Editor Shontell also quoted from Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos, who said the following: “As entrepreneurs, we struggle to separate our egos from the prospects of our startups. We conflate the fate of the enterprise with our value as human beings” (Shontell quoting Dunn, 2024). In other words, for the entrepreneur, we become our jobs. Dunn suggests that it is easy in our perception to convince ourselves that we carry the weight and fate of our employees and this company’s success on our shoulders. But this is fundamentally not true. Whether you are the founding member of a complex start-up effort, or simply the average employee: you are not what you do. You are not your job. This knowledge is all the more significant during difficult times of job loss and dissatisfaction.

 

Over the past two years it has become a trendy thing among tech companies large and small to promote layoffs, with tech CEOs suggesting that the purpose is, “to better align with our business priorities” (Gold and Trueman, 2024). Whatever the current accepted corporate lingo is, people are out of work, prices are out of control, and people are scared. The pandemic caused tech companies to bulk up with staff to manage remote work and solidify e-commerce (Gold and Trueman, 2024). But revenues are down; and the quickest way to boost revenues is to trim staffing, since staffing is the largest cost of any business. It doesn’t help that Wall Street loves these moves, since they often lead to short-term profitability gains and even the payout of stock dividends (Reeves, 2024).

 

But we return to the same situation. While finding a job seems to resolve my need to be “doing” once again, there are still deeper questions we must ask ourselves about our work and our lives. We are not what we do; and we never will be. The old saying is true, that someone on their death bed never hoped for “more time in the office” (Covey and Merrill, 1994). In fact the opposite is true, according to author Bronnie Ware. In Ware’s classic book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, people wished that they had been more true to themselves, and not lived the life others expected of them (Ware, 2012). They also wished that they had let themselves be happier; and that they demonstrated the courage to express their feeling… and get this one: they wished that they hadn’t worked so hard (Ware, 2012). Perhaps one reason for this was another of the five wishes: they wished that they would have stayed in closer touch with their friends (Ware, 2012).

 

Friend, you and I are created in the image of a Heavenly Father (Genesis 1:26-27) who loves us, and who through Jesus Christ gave us salvation and freedom from guilt and condemnation (Romans 8:1-2). If we are not what we do, then who are we when we are not working? Work is a socialization experience. Our work socializes us into interactions which complement our personalities and give expression to our giftedness. When we are not working, the greatest loss is not simply the loss of a paycheck. We lose out on those Thursday lunches with our friends, when we talk about upcoming weekend projects or sporting events. We lose out on ordering coffee at the drive-through window, and that smile from the clerk who knows us and asks, “You want that coffee light and sweet, right?” because they have seen us dozens of times before.

 

These touchpoints are experiences for which we can make adjustments – and we need to do this. For if we pursue these interactions outside of our “doing” hours, then these experiences will bring our fragile efforts at living by “doing” into clearer focus for what it really is: my effort at finding value in what I accomplish. And that is a race you will never win. Or as comedian Lily Tomlin famously said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat” (BrainyQuote).

 

All of this revolves around this issue of self-worth. Beloved, you have so much more worth than you can gain by all of your “doings.” Jesus told His disciples that God knows the concerns that we have; and God knows the details in our lives, even down to the very number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30). God knows the joys we share and the pains we hide, and not even a sparrow might fall to the ground that is unknown to Him… but according to Jesus, we are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31).

 

If God knows the number of hairs on our head, and if He knows when the sparrows fall; and if to Him we are worth more than many sparrows, then how should we respond to layoffs and failed ventures? We can walk with confidence, knowing that God is with us, and He will make a way where there seems to be no way. This may not put money in your pocket, but there are things that are greater than money: like the love of a child, or the time spent with family and loved ones; or time spent exploring this world, and its great works of art and music and literature. Remember back to the greatest regrets of the dying (Ware, 2012)?

 

This is not the time for self-pity or wallowing. This is the time for redoing resumes, boosting skills, and investing in oneself to better oneself. And the best way to invest in yourself is to reflect on this truth: that there is a God who has given His all to give value to your life by redeeming His son’s life for yours (Mark 10:45). And I hope when we meet at the next Business mixer I hear you tell me that while you are proud of what you do, you are not your job. You are a child of the King!

 

Joseph J. Bucci has served as a Pastor, Author, HR Director, Director of Training, Professor and Consultant. His latest book, Redemption Inc. was published in 2022. Contact Dr. Bucci at joe@josephjbucci.

 

References:

BrainyQuote: Lily Tomlin. Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/lily_tomlin_100013.

 

Covey, S.R.; & Merrill, A.R. (1994). First Things First. New York: Simon and Schuster.

 

Gold, J.; & Trueman, C. (2024, February 23). Tech layoffs: A timeline. Computerworld: Technology Industry [Web Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.computerworld.com/article/3685936/tech-layoffs-in-2023-a-timeline.html.

 

Reeves, J. (2024, February 7). 2024 layoffs: How they affect stock prices. US News: Money / Investing [Web Blog]. Retrieved from https://money.usnews.com/investing/articles/2024-layoffs-how-they-affect-stock-prices.

 

Shontell, A. (2024, February/March). You are not your job. Fortune, 189(1), pg 4.

 

Segal, E. (2021, September 14). What works—and what doesn’t—for building pride in the workplace. Forbes: Leadership Strategy [Web Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/2021/09/14/what-works-and-what-doesnt---in-building-pride-in-the-workplace/.

 

Ware, B (2012). The top five regrets of the dying: A life transformed by the dearly departing. Carlsbad, CA.: Hay House.

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