Book Review: Working Identity

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Working Identity was exceptional.  In reality, this was one of those books I was not able to put down.  The book is a fantastic mixture of career stories, challenging insights and practical suggestions to navigate your career.

This post will include quotes and my insights from each quote:


“Erik Erikson once wrote that identity is like a good conscience: It is never maintained once and for all but constantly lost and regained.” 

Throughout our career we lose and gain our identity.  Sometimes we over identify with our careers that we have no other sense of self outside the company or brand we relate to.  I experienced this for seven years, where I felt a strong sense of identity with my employer and somehow lost my identity.

“Adult development, he argued, is a process that requires both questioning and commitment.  The person who neither questions nor commits to a course of action obviously goes nowhere.”

Reflection is critical in career change and at the same time it is not enough.  The reflective process helps us gain clarity and must immediately be put into some tangible action.  Ibarra recommends moving ahead for some small wins and to affirm who we are.

“We don’t find ourselves by a blind flashing light.  We learn by doing over and over again.”

Simply put, your career is solidifying your experiences of the past into different pathways.  It is not letting go of who you are it is affirming your identity in different places and in different situations.

“The end of all our exploring,” as T.S. Eliot reminds us, “will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.  In between, we try on unfamiliar roles and experiment with trial identities, always updating our goals and methods, with each step coming close and close to becoming ourselves again.” 

So true, how we lose sight of our identity and recapture it over and over again.  I find myself today doing work I did right after graduation and in a different context with a completely different challenge.  I reference this as my growth zone.

“Change always takes much longer than we expect because to make room for the new, we have to get rid of some of the old selves we are still dragging around and, unconsciously still invested in becoming.” 

This is about holding on tightly to what dad or mom or a boss said you need to become.  Letting go of this is in many ways a mourning process because the goal you had is now different and making room for the new can be very painful.

“The place between endings and beginnings is the neutral zone, which people feel they have lost ground between the old identity and the new ground under their feet.”

The neutral ground is very scary for many people. It might actually be what holds us back because we long to hold onto our old identity.  In our career, embracing our new selves and moving forward is a risky first step.

“Endings are tougher and take longer than we think.  No matter how unhappy we may be in a job, most of us continue to revisit the possibility of making it work because the present role is necessarily tied to a possible self- an image, outdated though it may be, of whom we once wanted to become.” 

That self-image is so strong.  The persona of who you think you should be can create strong ties to who we really are.

“It takes on average three years from the time a person decides to leave the company until the day he or she walks out the door.  Those are not good or productive years.  For me those were three years in limbo.”

I started my change in 2009 after a coach indicated that he thought I was not really happy. He was right and I was not ready to change. I was however ready to reflect and explore.  That is the whole point of the book you cannot create your new career identity without a commitment to reflection and action.

I highly recommend you read this book and share with me a few of your new career identities.  Start exploring!