My Life Drastically Changed When I Stopped Defining Myself by My Career

Elizabeth Ayoola
·3 min read

During one of my first therapy sessions, I sat on my living room sofa at five-something a.m. telling my therapist over Skype how I felt about the week that had just passed. I explained that I was productive and ticked several items off my to-do list, and yet for some reason still felt empty and unfulfilled. My therapist then asked what would happen if I put my to-do list aside for a day. I immediately wondered why she brought this up; isn't getting stuff done a good thing? I told her that I thought I would feel unproductive and empty, because achieving my goals gives me purpose, and how I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I wasn't busy doing something.

Then the "aha!" moment came. We concluded that I don't enjoy sitting with myself and doing "nothing". I am uncomfortable with stillness.

I am still worthy on days I choose to be kind to my body and sleep instead of work. I am valuable even when I'm not making money!

After digging much deeper, I discovered that I was tying most of my value to my career. For so long, I felt like I had to earn my value and worth by working and contributing something meaningful to the world. I thought that by constantly hustling and attaining greater heights in my career would remedy feelings of unworthiness and my lack of self-value. The story in my head was that if I became wildly successful, people would finally see me, and I would get the love and celebration I didn't want to admit that I craved. As many others probably also relate to, social media pressure didn't help either. All of the motivational memes fed my productivity addiction and drove me further into a black hole of emptiness.

Months of therapy, mindfulness, and meditation later, I'm gradually detaching my value as a human from my work. Now, instead of defining myself by the things I achieve in my career, I focus on manifesting the things I want to feel. As the great self-love and liberation teacher for women of color Shelah Marie taught me, we are not chasing goals, we are chasing the feeling the goal will give us.

Behind my desire to make tons of money and become a renowned creative, I figured out that I was also seeking to feel validated, useful, seen, and heard. I now manifest those feelings through more self-care, healing work, and self-love. And guess what the icing on the cake is? I no longer use pushy energy to try and achieve my career goals. I'm moving at my own pace, I feel more fulfilled, and I handle failure so much better.

I now feel more at ease on days I achieve nothing on my to-do list. I am still worthy on days I choose to be kind to my body and sleep instead of work. I am deserving on days I binge Married at First Sight instead of working on client content. I am badass no matter how far along in my career I am. I am valuable even when I'm not making money!

That said, I'm still ambitious, and I still have lofty career goals. However, I have also become more comfortable with normalizing rest, pacing myself, and showing myself compassion when I'm not moving at the speed capitalism says I should. I'm still going to make all of my dreams come true, but I'll do so patiently knowing that in my time, my stars will align, and not every one of them has to be about work.