Self-Image and The Professional

How broad is your self-image and what obscure ways can it relate to you as a professional?

In 1960 social psychologist Manford Kuhn put forth a model for understanding self-image that is important for individuals to consider.  According to his research, self-image results from how one defines themselves in terms of their social role and personality traits.  An example of someone defining themselves using a social role would include describing themselves as a mother, teacher, or student. An example of doing so with a personality trait would be acknowledging oneself as ambitious, optimistic, or an extrovert. Other psychologists note additional areas including the existential self (e.g. spiritual being, child of God) and physical self (e.g. race, height, body shape). While these represent a number of ways to view oneself, it is not uncommon for individuals to focus primarily on their social role, and more specifically, their job. 

One of the most important pieces of information that we as humans use to identify ourselves is our job. Our job (or career) can provide status, identity, and a means of determining personal value. However, there is great danger in failing to develop a broader definition of oneself. For example, what happens if you for some reason lose your job? Or, are forced to take a role of lower perceived pedigree?

Either of the aformentioned situations can present a dilemma of high proportions. It is, therefore, important that individuals seriously consider their self-image and make sure that they do not over rely on their job to provide them with their sense of value and self-worth.  While one’s career is very important, it is also important to think about who you are beyond that in real terms. It is interesting to see how many adults and students struggle in this area.

Knowing this can help minimize devastating shocks to one’s self-esteem and self-efficacy during a challenging work experience. This could also help prevent an individual from going into a major depression in the event of an employment crisis such as a demotion, termination, or layoff.


Kuhn, M. H. (1960). Self-attitudes by age, sex and professional training. Sociological Quarterly, 1, 39-56.

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