Beyond your role

In a new column, Korn Ferry’s Emily Gianunzio and Chloe Carr offer six strategies to separate self-worth from work outcomes for better performance and well-being.

Authors: Emily Gianunzio, Chloe Carr

When we win, we feel on top of the world. When we lose, we feel it in our bones.

Victories and defeats can shape our self-worth, making it all too easy to tie our identity with our achievements. Yet, our value extends beyond the boundaries of success and failure.

When asked to describe ourselves, we might be quick to define ourselves by one role, such as “mother” or “doctor.” In reality, we’re a blend of multiple identities, influenced by factors like biology, culture, personality, and profession. Focusing too much on just one facet, such as our profession, can distort how we see ourselves, leading to stress and burnout.

Korn Ferry's research found that high levels of burnout not only can affect our physical and emotional health but also how well we perform at work. Understanding ourselves beyond our roles and accomplishments is crucial both for our self-worth and better performance.

Placing your purpose

Our identities are multifaceted and complex, yet all too often, we fall into the trap of classifying ourselves by a single identity—like let’s say, being a high performer at work. When this piece of us doesn’t do well, our self-worth tends to suffer. That’s why we need to recognize that we are more than the sum of the tasks checked off on our daily to-do list.

Our personal purpose plays a pivotal role in shaping our sense of self. It’s a guiding light that goes beyond short-term successes and failures; purpose helps us understand how we contribute to the world around us. It acts as a compass, directing our actions both at work and in our personal lives.

Interestingly, only 6% of the employees surveyed by Korn Ferry listed “career” as their top purpose. Yet, our research on purpose found that we spend one-third of our time awake working. This suggests that work can play a large role in influencing our self-worth and meaning—whether we want it to or not.

When we begin to unravel our self-esteem from our work, we see our well-being and our careers benefit. We experience greater motivation, improved resilience, and increased productivity. Part of this involves paying attention to where we place our purpose. Korn Ferry's research says that having a strong sense of purpose is related to increased work engagement and organizational commitment. And beyond performance, research suggests that this purpose is also linked to living a longer, healthier life.

Purpose propels performance but doesn’t depend on it. When our purpose lives and dies solely by our work performance, shortcomings in a job can feel too laborious to overcome. A strong sense of purpose keeps one misstep from derailing our self-worth, leading to better resilience and long-term performance.

It’s important to remember, though, that while broadening how you see yourself can help bring out your best abilities, defining yourself by too many identities may bury your true self. Having focus and a clear purpose is key to finding a balance between all those things that make you you.


6 Strategies for Nurturing Your Self-Worth

By embracing a broader view of our many identities—identities like “friend,” “parent,” and “employee”—we open the door to self-discovery and empowerment. And when work doesn’t go as planned, we can become more resilient, as our sense of self-worth can rely on other aspects of our identity that make us who we are. This perspective, which underpins resilience through a diverse self-concept, is supported by psychological research that shows people with this trait demonstrate improved adaptation and performance in demanding environments.

Here are 6 strategies for preserving your sense of self:

1. Look at more than just work. Instead of only thinking your value comes from your job, consider personal growth, relationships, and well-being too. Find hobbies that take your mind off work or deepen relationships with new or existing friends. If you have a clear sense of purpose, choose activities and practices that grow it beyond your career.

2. Appreciate your effort. Don't just celebrate when things go well. Appreciate the hard work you put in, no matter the outcome. The effort and time you give are important. Not every effort will end in a win, but every failure takes you one step closer to success. And recognize that your hard work—on anything—is valuable.

3. Explore hobbies. Dedicate time outside of work to activities you are passionate about. Cultivating a variety of hobbies not only adds color and enjoyment to your life but also helps you develop a more balanced self-view. By investing in interests beyond your profession, you reinforce the importance of all your identities, boosting your sense of fulfillment.

4. Surround yourself with support. Engage with people who appreciate you beyond your accomplishments. Consider evaluating your relationships and distancing yourself from ones that don’t serve you. A nurturing community not only supports but also enhances your understanding of yourself.

5. Stay present and mindful at work. Practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing, brief meditation, or mindful walking during breaks. These activities help keep your focus on the present, preventing you from dwelling on past projects or worrying about future deadlines. This approach not only builds resilience but also improves your effectiveness and well-being in the workplace.

6. Set personal goals. Aim for things that matter to you, not just what others expect. Goals tied to your values bring a deeper sense of accomplishment into your life, allowing you to continue to live out your purpose beyond your role.

As we go through life, we keep evolving. We are not only defined by achievements and accolades—we are shaped by our culture, our values, and our experiences. When we fully accept that our identities are multifaceted—and not defined solely by our jobs or accomplishments—we find a more stable sense of purpose that goes way beyond our roles. We are more than our profession and understanding that makes the work we do even better.