Career Identity Crisis? Here’s How to Deal

Having a career identity crisis? This is a fairly new experience that reflects the reality of the current state of careers. You see, it used to be that you picked a career and stuck with it. 

“I’m Bill and I’m a plumber."
“I’m Sarah and I’m a teacher."
“I’m Susan and I’m a lawyer."

Your career was static, and it was a stable part of your identity. 

Now it’s more like...

“I’m Karen and I got my undergrad degree in political science, worked at a tech start up for a couple years, quit to pursue art full-time, and then went into consulting to pay the bills."

If your story is similar, it’s no wonder that you’d feel confused. Even if your path is less convoluted and you undergo only one or two major career shifts in your lifetime, those shifts can hit you hard. 

Our work doesn’t just feel like something we do; it feels like something we are. This can be healthy or unhealthy depending on your relationship to your career, but the point is that a change in your career signals a change in you. And when that change is uncomfortable, you feel uncomfortable. Yes, you may even feel in crisis. 

When you want to leave an old career for a new career, the question is not just, “How will I do something new?” You also wrestle with, “How will I be someone new?"

“Who am I if I don’t do my old work?"
“What does it say about me if I walk away?"
“Who am I to try something new?"
“What does it say about me if I try and I fail?"

Those are all questions of identity. 

Even leaving a crappy job can be challenging if has become comfortable. Imagine just quitting. There’s the adrenaline rush. And then...

Instead of “Marie with a kinda crappy job but at least she knows where to show up and what to do everyday" you're just Marie. Bah. The freedom. The responsibility. The vulnerability of just being you without having a job to define you and structure your time. 

The most important thing to know about career transitions is that they are the new normal and to be expected. Careers today are fluid, so the most important thing is to know how to go with the flow. 

When you find yourself in a career transition, use the tips below to help. 

How to Handle Your Career Identity Crisis



It’s tempting to isolate when you feel like a mess, but it’s important that you have somewhere to be and people to interact with, especially if you’re in a situation where you suddenly have lots of downtime. You can skip big events and stick to small, low-key hangouts, if that feels better.  



You won’t be here forever, so for awhile it’s ok to be uncertain. You get to not know everything. You get to be a full-blown mess if you need to. You will sort things out and recover. 



This can be list form, stories, notes about your past, or what you're doing now. Reconnect to who you are. You ARE more than your career. Remember who you are—just you, without work to define you. 



When you’re in a career crisis, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. Ok, you’re human; you can do a little of that. But to counteract that, you need to do things that make you feel capable. That might be creating art, helping a friend, rearranging your house, or spending time with your nephew. 



Oftentimes when something is off in our careers, we feel that we have no control over it. So, instead of addressing our careers head on, we tinker with other areas of our life. We start a creative project, invest more in our social lives, or endeavor to do more self-care. All of those things can improve the quality of your life, but they don’t solve the core problem: your career. Take direct action to resolve the conflict in your career, and you’ll feel powerful, proud, and more like you. 


Have you been through a career identity crisis? How did you handle it? I’d love to hear in the comments.