Comment: When your career is who you are

Charlotte Moore discusses how to stay secure in your self-worth outside of the workplace.

Charlotte Moore is a freelance copywriter and journalist based in Manchester, UK.

‘Who am I without my job?’ It's a question that I'd never really asked myself. On the surface, it's easy to answer; we're far more interesting than what we do for a living. But, for those of us with creative businesses, our jobs are more than just a career. They often start as dreams and side hustles in childhood bedrooms. To have that finally pay off, it becomes intrinsically linked to our identity. 

And, a writer – an editor at that – became who I was. 

The call was brief. Nine months into the pandemic, on a rainy Tuesday, I was told that my editorial role at an indie magazine was no longer required. I had a week to set up my out of office and craft a handover. References would be available on request. 

It took me more than a year in the job to say I was a writer, for the words to form on my tongue when asked at the pub or at a family event. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, I wasn't. It was only a few weeks after losing my job that I realized just how much of my sense of self and my self-esteem I'd inadvertently tied to a job title. Stripped of it, I felt a catastrophic loss. 

Akin to a breakup in the social media age, I removed the name of my former publication from my Instagram and Twitter bio, the cursor blinking at me furiously as I tried to think of something else to put in there. Something else about me aside from ‘editor’. Every time I went to apply for another editorial role, I froze. Even outside of a pandemic, I was a risky hire – with no qualifications and only a year's editorial experience under my belt, the big publications that had the financial support to pay for an editor were unlikely to consider me. 

It wasn't just my identity that I was attempting to claw back – my dwindling savings ensured that going out was a thing of the past. So, even as consolatory texts arrived from friends and colleagues inviting me out, I was isolated for the reason that ‘I can't afford it’. 

But, as I slowly picked up copywriting work, I began to venture back into the world with a new perspective – a new version of my editor self. This clawing, all-encompassing need to prove that I was a real writer began to dissipate. 

And, a year or so on, I wonder: could I still be me, if I wasn't a writer? Probably not. Writing is at the core of who I am. My identity is so helplessly intertwined with words that it's impossible to see a version of myself that would avoid putting pen to paper (or, more realistically, hands to keyboard). But great writers shift. They discover new versions of themselves all the time.

So, who am I without my job? Losing my title might have robbed me of my identity. But, like all great writers in history, I've found another. 

A version of this article was first published in Courier issue 47, June/July 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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