I have trouble separating my identity from my job. The majority of my childhood and adolescence were spent in pursuit of a single goal--dancing professionally. As a privileged middle class girl growing up in the twenty-first century, I was told I could accomplish anything if I worked hard enough, so I set my sights on earning a living by doing something I loved, something I found valuable. There was no question in my mind that I was destined to make a living from my art, not from a so-called "survival job." It was horribly narrow-minded and elitist of me.
Real life, as is so often the case, turned out not to be so straightforward. I've succeeded at a number of career-related pursuits as an adult and failed at others. I've worked some as a performer but not in the way I envisioned. I've been so married to the mantra, "Do what you love!" that I've not even considered other alternatives. Miya Tokumitsu wrote recently about the problematic nature and inherent elticsm of the "Do What You Love" philosophy and, after years of making my passion my work, I agree with her analysis.
Certainly, I've been fortunate and extremely privileged to have the luxury of pursuing freelance performing and writing as well as small business ownership. I've also made sacrifices of time and personal financial security to do so---my husband and I lived below the state poverty line for the first four years of our marriage and still have precarious months and weeks on a regular basis. But my experience is still one of privilege. I'm white, college educated and from a middle/upper-middle class background. My parents and immediate family members almost all hold bachelor's or master's degrees and are employed. I have a social safety net that's allowed me to try to "do what I love" that so many people don't have.
In this "do what you love" culture that places higher value on jobs done for "passion" than for financial need or work's own sake, it's easy to let our identities be all about what we "do." When you're self-employed, it's even easier to fall into this trap. Often (as in my case) you and your business are literally the same legal entity. I'm working daily to remind myself that I am not my job. Neither are you. Painting murals for a living doesn't mean you have any richer an inner life than a waitress. Running a tech start-up doesn't make you any more capable of loving others than an assembly line worker at a factory. Owning a dance studio doesn't make me a better or worse person or necessarily mean I'm any more or less successful than if I were working in any other field.
It's okay for work to be work and not passion. Maybe it's even a healthier approach.