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With a new year comes New Year's resolutions.

On a personal level, they may include dieting and exercising, but professionally many of us set goals to work harder and achieve more, believing the extra work and obligations will make us better people.

But what if they don't?

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Politicians and pundits often talk about employment as the ultimate solution to a variety of social problems, but we are already close to full employment. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has said a U.S. unemployment rate of between 4 per cent and 6.4 per cent constitutes full employment. Currently, the rate in the United States stands at 4.7 per cent and in Canada at 6.9 per cent. Rather than focus on creating more jobs, we need to recognize the correlation between income and work may no longer make any sense.

It's a fascinating theory presented in a book called No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea by James Livingston, who is a professor of history at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

He suggests there simply isn't enough work to go around that allows for a living wage. We may be entering a post-jobs society and this presents two major problems: how to survive financially and what to do with your time if you do end up shucking work altogether.

Dr. Livingston recommends a guaranteed-income approach, such as the Province of Ontario is studying. The trick is ensuring it gains acceptance, since getting "something for nothing is intolerable for us," he said in a phone interview. However, he's optimistic we can evolve and learn to "be our brother's keeper."

The challenging part about not working is in many ways more spiritual, and it comes down to how we spend our time. In our culture, working is how we define our character and create our personal sense of identity. For ages, work defined everything from your status, to gender to morality. When that disappears, we feel less secure in our personal definitions of ourselves.

Dr. Livingston suggests you don't learn much about your character by working for minimum wage in a dead-end job. So if we really want to rethink what work means in the future, we need to not only decouple income from labour, but also reimagine who we are as individuals without a title and paycheque.

There are some who are already trying to redefine their answer to the perennial question: "What do you do?"

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Vanessa Serra Iarocci, an associate vice-president at TD Wealth in Toronto, is one of them. A self-declared workaholic, Ms. Iarocci decided to take a one-year sabbatical last August after being employed in professional services for 17 years. She has since become an evangelist for the practice.

"Work has always been my priority, 100 per cent. I don't know if it was turning 40, but I thought this is the year to explore other things in life," Ms. Iarocci said.

She had no definitive plans for the year, but ended up spending more time with family and recharging her energy. Then, opportunities started to present themselves and she began working with the Rotman School of Business as an executive-in-residence on a volunteer basis. She also took some courses at Stanford and Google, and found "the opportunity to upgrade her brain" a highly valuable experience.

But Ms. Iorocci's big "aha moment" was discovering that work isn't just a place you go to make money, but rather a destination to leverage your talent and make an impact.

"I really felt when people asked me what do you do, that I defined myself by my job title. But really everyone has a portable tool kit of what they offer the world that is not at all linked to anything bigger than themselves. After a while, you get this self-confidence that, even if I don't have a job, I'm not irrelevant. I have a lot to offer," she said.

Sonia Montoni also left a big role at real estate manager Brookfield Global Integrated Solutions to take time off to rethink her approach to work. She ended up landing a role at another firm as its director of finance, where she could work "smarter" rather than harder.

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"It's about enabling everyone around me so that everyone has a better quality of life. You don't get gold stars for staying at work until midnight," she said.

So what are you going to do, other than work, in 2017?

That question used to be applied only to the economic elite, but as employment continues not to pay the bills for many, and governments adopt new ways to ensure its citizens are taken care of, learning who we are without work will play a critical role in human development.

Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) writes about workplace trends.

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