#020 – Blue Pill Brokenness – Work As Usual – An Idol and Identity

At Integrous, we believe one of the four key aspects of toxic “work as usual” that leads to “work” becoming something far from God’s good and live-giving design in Genesis is Idol and Identity–the idea that “work as usual” means our work has come to DEFINE “who” we are, rather than being a place to EXPRESS “who” we are.

Work as an Idol and Identity is a product of both American culture as well as a “business as usual” culture.

  • American culture, in particular, glorifies our work as our primary identity.  What is the first question asked at a cocktail party upon meeting someone new?  “What do you DO?”  Almost reflexively, Americans label themselves by their work:  “I AM a lawyer.”  “I AM a policeman.”  “I AM a nurse.I AM a mechanic.”  Is it any wonder that people feel a profound loss of identity when they re in-between jobs–they have ceased to BE anything.
  • Business as Usual” also contributes to our unhealthy focus on work as identity:
    • Long hours leave little room for other identities.
    • Management often demands loyalty over other interests.
    • Even a person’s primary extra-curricular activities can be work-related when sports teams and community service projects are employer-sponsored.

When I lost my arm, I lost my career and my position; I really lost my sense of identity. All I had ever done was play baseball. Who was I, if not a pro baseball player? (Dave Dravecky)

Our self-worth and value is wrapped-up in whatever we see as our primary identity. There are numerous problems that can flow from work being our primary identity and source of worth and value:

  • Like Dave Dravecky (a former pitcher for the SanFrancisco Giants), an injury or illness can take it away.
  • An employer has the power to take away “who we are“, if even for a short period of time.
  • If “business as usual” is pursuing Profit as Purpose (which, as we have explained in an earlier post, means that workers can’t be more than a means to that end—tools of production) and a worker is pursuing work as Identity and Idol, the worker is vulnerable to extreme manipulation by management in his or her pursuit of worth and value through their job.
  • A person can only have one primary identity, and they will sacrifice their secondary identities to ensure success in their primary identity. With work as Identity and Idol, identities grounded in things like faith, family and fitness will be compromised or even sacrificed to ensure success at work.  In her book Overwhelmed: How To Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, author Brigid Schulte described the “ideal worker”: “So tied to his job is the ideal worker that he works endless hours, even if it costs him his health and his family.”


SPOILER ALERT: At Integrous, we believe a person should never strive to be a Christian businessperson (or a Christian lawyer or a Christian doctor). In fact, in future posts we will explain why we think it is even un-Biblical to pursue such identities.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):  I will never forget when Dave Dravecky came to tell his story at the New Canaan Society.  It was January 12, 2007 at the Hibernian Club in Stamford, CT.  Dravecky told us that his identity was wrapped up in being a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.  He then held up in his one remaining hand an old Dave Dravecky baseball card and proceeded to tear it in half with his teeth.  He said that he was lost when his identity was taken away, and he asked us what was on “our card” and what would we do if it was taken away.   Just two years later, my wife and I concluded that God was asking me to “tear up” the card that had represented my identity for over two decades–my business card as an attorney with a prestigious “Wall Street”  law firm.  It took a few years before I recognized how uncomfortable I felt without an identity on a business card.  It was not until preparing a 2012 presentation on “Ambition and Life Choices” for a Priority Associates event in New York City that I came to the realization that my primary identity must always be as a follower of Jesus–my identity must be WHO I am and not WHAT I do.

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