Unhappiness with your career choice goes to the root of your identity and your sense of authenticity.
Add that to Dan Pink’s list of intrinsic motivations: autonomy, mastery, purpose and identity. Identity is part of why hackers hack (or contribute to Wikipedia or open source projects). All four motivations are interrelated, but identity is distinct from the other three.
While identity is about me (who I am), purpose is about something bigger than me. Autonomy is the choices I make, and mastery is what I aspire to be. My values are what connect them all together – how I see myself, who I want to become, the impact I want to have, how I want to get there.
Admittedly some people are more extrinsically motivated, but for the rest of us, what we do is part of who we are. When you don’t feel like your work reflects your values, it creates cognitive dissonance – the source of both personal and professional unhappiness and stress.
The problem as I see it is that many norms of “professionalism” seem to stamp out individuality. Employers want cookie cutter employees, right down to the bland business casual dress code. It is part of the command and control method of organizing, instead of freedom and responsibility.
Why should I have to pretend to be someone at work that is different from who I am outside of work? Can I really keep the two separate? The interweb is redefining the bounds of personal privacy. Maybe employers should redefine professionalism. Start by making “Casual Friday” everyday.