I don't know about you, but I have had some pretty awful jobs throughout my life. Just so you can paint a picture, I have been sexually harassed as a front desk clerk, belittled as a server for a catering company and verbally abused as a customer care agent for an online banking company; just to name a few. As I worked many of these jobs, I often wondered two things: one, what did I do to deserve this crap and the second thing was, is this all I can offer the world? Luckily for me, I had supportive people in my life offering me advice that grounded me when I needed it and most importantly reminded me that no matter what job I had, be it some CEO of a major corporation or a garbage collector, my job does not define who I am as a person. I, alone, am in control of that determination as dictated by my words and actions.
Along Came Polly (2004) is one of my favorite romantic comedies for many reasons, but aside from its entertaining value, it also has a profound lesson not letting your job define who are as a person. From the beginning of the movie, Reuben Feffer (Ben Stiller) was portrayed as an uptight risk averse risk assessment analyst for a major insurance company. Although he was so careful and calculating, even in his personal life, he often chose to surround himself with risk prone people, like his best friend Sandy Lyle (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Other than growing up together, clearly they had little to nothing in common except for maybe one major thing: they both defined themselves by their jobs. Reuben thought he had to maintain a personal life that would yield the best insurance investment and Sandy still thought he was a child actor that was famous for a one liner back in the 80s. Both of them had to learn, through the grace of a cold hard reality check, that they were more than their jobs.
For Reuben, the reality check that ultimately led him down the path of discovering that he was not defined by his job came through an unlikely relationship with an unfocused, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants former schoolmate named Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston). For Sandy, it only took a verbal reality check form Reuben's quiet dad, to call out his obnoxious superiority complex behavior during a community theater project to bring light to the fact that he was clinging to his former glory days. It was also particularly interesting how neither Reuben nor Sandy pointed out to each other their unhealthy pattern of defining themselves by their jobs; maybe that was one of the qualities that they mirrored in each other as friends and didn't even know it, but that's another post.
By the end of the movie, Reuben (and Sandy) had learned that their jobs did not define who they were and Reuben was able to step outside of his comfort zone and take more risks in an effort to live a more fulfilling life. He was happier for it, less uptight when things didn't go according to plan and learning the joys of taking each day at a time. For the rest of us, I think that just translates to learning to leave work at the office and make our personal time really count because that is what truly defines who we are.