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  • Writer's pictureRich Haglund

You are not your job.

Thank you, Toni Morrison.

Actually, thanks to Toni Morrison's father.

In a 2017 New Yorker essay, Toni Morrison wrote about the distinction between "the work you do" and "the person you are." Morrison writes about "the pleasure of being needed by her parents." She worked as a young girl, cleaning a house for a couple hours each day after school. The job provided her money to spend on fun things she wanted and a portion to contribute to the household expenses.

But the job got harder. One day, she "let drop a few whines about the job" to her father. Unlike what she expected from her mother, her father looked at her with "no sympathy in his eyes." Instead, he said this:

“Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”

And this is what Morrison said she heard in those words:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.
2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.
3. Your real life is with us, your family.
4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

I encourage you to contemplate Morrison's conclusions. And to consider other things you might tell yourself to avoid the up- and downside risks of making your work your identity. As Dave Stuart explains in this video (and writes about here), when we let our strong or poor performance at work influence how we feel about ourselves, we can do real damage to our state of mind and being.

I love being able to work for and with organizations and individuals giving so much of themselves to make high quality education a reality for more young people. I take pleasure in doing that work. But I have to remind myself of the truths Toni Morrison heard from her father.

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