Photo credit: Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Identity Shift — the hardest part of changing roles?

Adam Callender


Our identify is closely linked to our work, our career. At social events, often the first question is about ‘what we do’? We quickly size up another person through their work, quickly linking to our first impressions. This identity, our work routine and relationships on the job often make us stick with the status quo over time.

It gives us recognition, status, belonging, self-esteem, and reinforcement of our self-concept. Research also shows that having a strong work identity (defined as how important your job is to who you are) can be tied to your wellbeing. Rebecca Zucker

Early Identity

As teenagers, we give a lot of thought to our personal identity, trying to connect with subjects at school, activities, and friendships. Many teen movies cover the cliched classifications of high schoolers in response to this search. Work experience, for teens can be pivotal, in imaging being into the work we are considering.

We spend a lot of time at work and thinking about work. It can be a place of challenge and of opportunity…

Can I see myself doing that?

I don’t think that is me…

How do I see my career playing out?

Am I being true to myself in my work?

I this what I want to do?

Even in Public Life

A celebrated Australian sportsperson Mal Meniga, OAM, has had a number of career shifts. From a Police officer to a local and international player and most recently head coach of the Australian Rugby League team. He is well known for playing for Canberra, St Helens (UK), Queensland and Australia. So, he is pretty adept at shifting his identity in sporting circles as a talented player, captain and coach.

However, at one stage Mal made a move to become a politician, no doubt due his popularity. Twenty years ago, he declared himself a candidate in the ACT, only to pull out during his initial public interview.

I don’t know Mal, however, he quickly struggled to make the leap. Reimagining ourselves as someone different can be confronting to say the least. Many I have spoken with and worked with can similarly struggle with the shift early.

Mid Career

I had a call from someone I have known 20 years, feeling stuck in his work, moving from business to business doing much the same thing without advancement. He was trying to make sense of advice that he could successfully make the jump into a completely different field after spending 25 years+ in broadly the same space.

We discussed this and concluded that exploring fields adjacent to what he had been working in was probably a good balance between reinvigorating and making the shift one he could comfortably do.

What holds us back

Regardless of our age or experience. Limiting beliefs or self-doubt playing its part, until we find evidence of connection. Maybe part of it is that we can have fixed ideas about what we are good at and indeed what sort of things we feel comfortable doing.

Our identities are not static. They evolve over time. Few people would say that they are the same person they were 10 years ago. Yet, we have a bias that can keep us stuck in a contracted view, where we see our present identity as our perpetual identity. Rebecca Zucker



Adam Callender

Sydney based, Adam coaches and mentors career professionals, leaders and business owners. He is fascinated by humans, motorsport, mountain bikes and technology.