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Think Out Loud

Getting Back to Work: Jobs and Identity

Pete Springer/OPB

When you meet someone new, how long does it take for one of you to ask the other, “So, what do you do?” It’s a common question used to glean information about a person’s passions as well as the way they spend the majority of their time. Many people here, and elsewhere, define themselves as much by their jobs as by the things they love to do outside of work.

The connection between career and personal identity has shifted for many people in the recession. Thousands of people in Oregon are out of work and, as they look for new opportunities, many are exploring new career paths. Regardless of the recession, it’s become unusual to expect to stay in the same job or even the same field for the majority of your working life. A guest on a recent show spoke to us about switching from being a commercial fisherman to a wind turbine technician.

So, how does your identity shift when you change jobs?

Did you recently change jobs or switch to a career in a different industry? Have you gone back to school in order to gain new skills? Are you unemployed? How has that affected your sense of who you are?

This is part of OPB’s Getting Back to Work series. You can find news pieces from the series as well as more coverage of the economy here.


  • Tamara Timmons: About to graduate from Portland State University with a Bachelor’s degree in health science, starting medical school at University of Southern California in the fall
  • Ted Timmons: About to graduate from Portland State University with a Bachelor’s degree in computer science
  • Carolyn Aldwin: Professor in the human development and family sciences department at Oregon State University
  • Chris Stout: Former owner of Serenity Landscapes
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