Your Workplace Is a Framework for Identity

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Book Collage

Ten to fifteen years ago, shopping for a new book meant traveling to a local bookstore where the owner usually greeted you as you walked through the door. Today, I spend five minutes online and the book is ordered and on its way. The only relationship I experience is being greeted by a confirmation email. But I can’t help myself, it’s just too easy.

One of my favorite bookstores was once owned by a wonderful lady in her seventies. Although she was always dressed to the nines, the store itself was a mess. There were stacks of books everywhere. Old books, new books, it didn’t matter. Books were stuffed in over-crowded shelves or simply in big stacks around the store. But ask for a book by title, and this sweet lady could take you right to it. It was here in this store that I uncovered many treasured books, including a leather-bond Greek grammar dating back to the late nineteenth century. I enjoyed her store, but my memories collect around the experience of talking to this wonderful lady. She always seemed to understand what I was looking for in a book, even when I wasn’t sure myself. It may sound strange, but in a small way, that bookstore experience and caring owner helped shape my identity.

I rarely visit a bookstore these days. I miss the smells of a good bookstore. I miss getting to know the owner, one who understands my book needs. But time is too valuable for me now, so I must relent to a “purchase now” button. It seems as though there are fewer and fewer actual places in life.

The topic of place has been around for ages, going back to Plato’s account of creation by the Demiurge in Timaeus, and Aristotle in Physics. Place creates memories—although not always good ones—memories of home, church, a college dorm room, even summer vacations, all contributing to the formation of our identity. Place is also important for building relationships. Unfortunately, technology has shortened time and distance, and thus, place becomes less important. (If you are interested in the idea of place, you might enjoy A Christian Theology of Place by John Inge and the Global Dictionary of Theology from InterVarsity Press.)

We live in a world where relationships are nurtured online and the names of those who live next to us are unknown. For many in our culture, the workplace may be one of the few remaining places of significance. At the workplace, we rub shoulders with fellow employees and leaders. At the workplace, success and conflict can all occur in one day. At the workplace, we form memories and reshape our identities. We are encouraged to “leave work at work,” but no one can really accomplish such a feat. When we go home at night, we experience joy, anger, fear, or any number of emotions as we review our workday.

This is a chilling reminder to me. The workplace is not simply a place to perform a duty and make a living. It is a place with profile, where memories and identity are formed in the people who work there. As a consultant, every time I enter a workplace, my actions, my ethics, the way I treat others can affect someone’s identity. I can flex my consulting muscles and have employees looking over their shoulders in fear. Or I can conduct myself with trust, integrity, and faithfulness, encouraging a culture of creativity and growth.

Perhaps it is a good reminder for all of us. Our work is much more than a job. Our workplace will create memories and experiences that will shape our identities. Let us pray that God gives us wisdom as our lives intersect the lives of our fellow workers every day.