How to Prevent Your Work from Ruling Your Life and Defining You

I used to think the path to self discovery was a one time journey you embarked on in your late teens/early 20s. Yet, somehow I found myself, at 29-years-old, yet again on the trail of self-discovery.

valeriedenisephotos5of32Here I was caught in the aftermath of a nonprofit job where I had lost sight of who I was after becoming everything to everyone. A chameleon to the needs of the cause I passionately served. My work had become my identity and without it I no longer knew how to define myself.

Putting together the pieces of my identity was not an easy task. There were moments I wanted to give in to the comfort of placing my name on another good cause. But I knew doing so would only send me wandering in the desert of self-discovery for years to come. Four years later, I am grateful to say I busted the courage to make that journey and was able to put back the pieces of who I am. Now, I can confidently say who I am defines my work. My work no longer defines who I am. Getting here was hard but I picked up a few tips along the way. So if you find yourself in a place of re-discovery, take heart. Here are a few things you can do take the first step back to you:


Grab a cup of joe, your favorite journal and take some time to reflect on the last year of your life.

• Start in January and write down everything that happened, month by month. Now go back and put a star next to every moment where you felt the most alive.

• Go back again and circle every experience that made you feel depleted. Look at your stars. Do you see any common themes or actions? These are the areas you want to press into moving forward. Now look at your circles. Any themes there?

• Make note of activities, relationships, or jobs that took energy away from you. Our stories can truly be a map to help guide us back to the essence of who we are.



Sometimes the best perspective comes from the ones we love. Ask two to three friends or family members to help you remember what you are good at. Seriously; ask them each to write down three things they’ve seen you do really well. If you want true honestly, ask a trusted parent. They have a good radar for what makes you come alive. 

Now, I can confidently say who I am defines my work. My work no longer defines who I am.


One study I always come back to when I feel lost is The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. Don’t be fooled by the name, you don’t have to be an artist to benefit from this study. The workbook is an incredible guide for reconnecting with the essence of who you are. The guided exercises really take you out of your normal rhythm and draw out truth in a way that is hard to muster on your own. The 12 week study is meant to be done in a group. So grab a couple girlfriends and add it to your weekly wine night.valeriedenisephotos6of32


The biggest lesson I learned in that season was to just try. Make a simple goal for yourself each day and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small! this is a season of small steps. It takes time to put the pieces of your identity back together when they are scattered at the alter of good intentions. Be patient. Keep going. One do a you’ll wake up whole again - a stronger, wiser version of who you are.

Photos by Valerie Denise, featuring Wildflower Roots


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