By Kimberly Kafafian
On this 20th anniversary of 9/11, I am reminded of the strong interconnection between work and life. So many of the individuals who perished in the attacks on that day in September lost their lives simply because they had gone to work that morning, just like any other day. None of them could have imagined the tragic events that would unfold.
Living and working in the New York / New Jersey area, just a short drive from where the Twin Towers stood, the events of 9/11 particularly hit home for me. I will never forget leaving work early, cresting the block to my apartment, and seeing the smoke rising from the burning towers. I will never forget waiting for phone call updates on missing friends and family. And the next day, I will never forget the cars still parked at the train station, their hoods overflowing with memorial flowers.
The memory of 9/11 continues to follow me. As my husband approaches his 20th anniversary in Federal Law Enforcement, I am reminded that he started his career shortly after 9/11. For 9 years, we then lived and worked a short distance from the Pentagon. And twenty years later, my company is headquartered in a town that lost 11 residents. Our town has a memorial dedicated to those lost just a few blocks from my office. I may stop to mourn the loss of life from 9/11 annually but I am reminded of the tragedy on a daily basis. Our hearts are forever with those who worked in the Twin Towers and Pentagon, the flight crews, the passengers, and the brave heroes who tried to save them. We will never forget.
So that is why, for me, that devastating day in 2011 is a stark example of the significance of work in our lives. It demonstrates that so much of our day, and life in general, is inextricably tied to our careers.
A job is so much more than a just a paycheck
For some, work holds a purpose, it is a calling to do good in the world. It is also an important channel for developing social bonds and a means for building personal identity and self-worth. And research shows that working is closely linked to one’s physical and mental wellbeing.
The work family bond
In any given week, we work a third of our waking hours. As a result, we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our loved ones – whether that be in-person at our workplaces or via video conferences in the wake of COVID-19. Spending so much time together, the line between work and personal often blurs. Relationships are forged, with co-workers becoming more than merely colleagues. Friendships blossom. We share intimate details of our lives and rely on one another for support – both in and out of the workplace. For some, co-workers can be the core of their social circle. There are so many heartbreaking, but inspiring, stories of co-workers lost on 9/11 and the bonds they shared with the survivors.
The why of work
Often our sense of self-worth is tied to our work life. Experiencing purpose at work helps us to feel like we are contributing to society and the common good. In this way, our careers can provide meaning in life, evoking passion and innovation at work and at home. This “calling” is especially exemplified by the first responders who bravely ran into the face of danger on that fateful day doing the job they loved, along with those who were off the clock but joined in the efforts.
Our work identity
Because we spend so much time at work, for many of us it can be a defining aspect of our lives and our identities. We often see our jobs as a key aspect of who we are. I know I do. Think about it – when you meet someone for the first time, how often do they ask you, “What do you do for work?” They ask this why? Small talk, yes. But they ask because what we do is such a big component of who we are.
The influence of work on personality
What we do at work can shape who we are – our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors – and that, in turn, can lead to changes in our personal lives. For example, jobs that require us to deal with a wide range of tasks, data, or people can enhance our abilities to juggle competing priorities or influence our proactiveness in finding solutions. Take me for example. I’m a very solutions-oriented person. My career has spanned from social services to human resources, and with it my identity as “the person who solves problems” has grown stronger over time. Problem solving HR issues for small businesses is what I do. But it is also who I am. When my sons come to me with their stumbling blocks, I immediately launch into problem-solving-mom-mode by helping them generate ideas for potential solutions.
Work and life are so intertwined. Our jobs and careers provide us with a sense of purpose and self-worth, allow us to flourish by connecting us to others, help us to build our individual identities, and enhance our ability to thrive in all aspects of our daily lives. And on this 20th anniversary of 9/11, we will never forget those who simply wanted to go to work that day.