When I first started this thread, I was feeling rather cold toward the concept of professional identity due to the pitfalls that I see and have felt in relationship with being dominantly guided by external forces.
In this process of becoming clearer about my distinction between the professional sense of self and professional identity, I realized that identity can play a vital role when utilized with mindfulness and awareness!
I found an illuminating entry about professional identity in a brief article on Wikipedia.com, which also emphasizes the external focus that I have observed:
- “Our identities determine with whom we will interact in a knowledge sharing activity, and our willingness and capacity to engage in boundary interactions” (p. 239, Wenger, 2000).
- “Participation constitutes identity construction; it will include dimensions of mutual engagement, a joint enterprise and a shared repertoire” (James).
- “Wenger (2000) identifies identity as engagement in the world.”
The keywords in these excerpts that were notable for me are: interact[ion], participation, sharing, and engage[ment]. Professional identity does provide many people with a sense of belonging in the work world, a bridge to connect with others, whether an individual is recognized as a teacher, counselor, or lawyer, etc.
Of course, a lot of people get a sense of joy from the roles that they perform. As indicated earlier in this thread, a sense of joy in a role can quickly turn into a sense of despair, if a person is significantly defined by or attached to an external professional identity and experiences a loss of that position.
In my professional life, I have been exposed to two central professional identities: the consultant and the therapist.
The professional identity of the consultant has seemed very generic to me because you can be a consultant for anything, in any industry. I never read any trade magazines about being a consultant and I never had any interest in doing so. I also had no real desire to “network” with other consultants.
In contrast, my graduate degree prepared me to be a marriage and family therapist (MFT). The professional identity of a therapist or more traditional professions (e.g., lawyer, doctor) feels much more cohesive and unifying to me. As a graduate student, I was exposed to professional organizations to join, to trade journals in the field, to the concept of consultation with other therapists, to the importance of assessment, and to a code of ethics.
Although, I determined that “the therapist” identity was not the best fit for me, I discovered an invaluable model that I can use in constructing my own integrated professional identity. My self-defined identity can help guide me to the organizations and professionals who I want to interact, participate, and collaborate with through work.
Some professions have steadily evolved over millennia, while others have developed over the past 100 years or less. Professions do provide ideas about best practices, highlight important educational trends, and collectively advocate for key issues and groups. I have actually yearned to be inspired enough by a profession or an industry that I would want to read regularly about the area and to contribute actively.
I know that an essential aspect of my professional journey involves enjoying the benefits of a profession while skillfully balancing the more externally defined and regulated concept of professional identity with my need to operate from a more mindful and internally guided place.
Through reflection and exploration, I discovered that higher education and the green movement are two areas that I naturally gravitate toward in my every day learning pursuits. I also have a tendency to learn about beneficial technologies that I can apply and teach to others. In my opinion, an attraction to a professional identity functions as a shortcut that can help us focus and discover strengths and areas of our self that we want to develop and apply through work.
For example, higher education represents my deep personal love of learning and transformation. The green movement symbolizes my abiding love and care for the Earth. Technology points toward the joy I find in communicating, creating, and shaping something new. Our passions along with our skills and desire to develop new capabilities and understandings shape the education, professional identities, and other roles that we seek.
When the unfamiliar term professional sense of self surfaced in my thoughts, I felt compelled to explore what that concept meant.
Right now, I would say that the professional sense of self is the awareness of your self and insight into the most optimal professional avenues to integrate that awareness. Discovering and creating the best ways to apply self awareness in order to contribute professionally is most definitely an ongoing journey.