Who are you now?

A lot has happened in two years. In March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, and by the end of 2020, 90 million people had been infected by the disease. Countless others had either suffered the death of a loved one or loss of employment, and everyone’s livelihoods and living arrangements were altered because of the strict social restrictions imposed.

Mental health and substance abuse cases soared as people were prohibited from meeting friends and family, and kept from doing the things they enjoyed. Working from home became the reality, from 4.7% of full-time staff working from home before lockdown, up to a high of 43% by April 2020.

No matter where you were on the planet, you were affected. Life, career and even identity had changed for so many people, and two years on, thanks to the vaccinations and previous waves of infection we seem to be entering a new phase, a new you.

Mental strength and resilience

Between March 2020 and January 2021, 1.3 million people lost their jobs and 4.7 million more workers were furloughed in the UK. Entire industries were devastated, and if you were working within the hospitality sector, many were left wondering what would become of their careers, given the rise in popularity of food delivery services.

During lockdown, a poll found that 41% were more likely to consider leaving their jobs within the year. Another suggested that 69% of people were planning to switch careers, learn a new trade or skill, or find a new role within their existing organisation. Some had decided to turn their hobbies and passions into careers, and others opted to pursue the job of their dreams.

The challenges that we have faced over the last few years have made us more resilient, emboldened, and mentally stronger. We are also becoming more independent. The era in which people dedicated most of their careers to one company is something of the past. Younger generations are prone to switching jobs more frequently and considering career alternatives.

Greater career volatility means people become less exposed to, and care less for a company’s culture and are therefore less able to extract any sense of personal identity. This is a massive challenge both for employers and employees.

You are what you do

To some extent, we are the things that we do. We become so immersed in those activities that they become a part of our identity. People often think of themselves as a teacher, an architect, a footballer, or a business director. This is what existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre would classify as being-in-itself, the idea of existing almost like an object – to serve a purpose. Because we spend so much time focused on one specific goal, it is easy to fall into this trap.

Picture someone who has worked for the same company for two decades, dedicated their time and energy to that company, and in exchange extracted a great deal of self-identity. When asked who they are, one of the first things that comes to their mind is their job. What happens if they quit or lose that job? In all likelihood, they will be forced to rediscover that missing part of their identity, proving that it was just something they did for a living, not who they are.

Leaving a job and changing career paths can be an existential journey but it is one filled with opportunity, freedom, and some degree of clarity. It is an opportunity to be, to exist. The business world only values who you are from a professional perspective. Therefore, a period of transition offers time and space to reflect on who you are and help you to decide on your next career move.

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