I’m struggling to figure out who I am, and sometimes one label feels so right, and then sooooooooo wrong.
Identity is a tricky thing. Most of the time it’s the ego’s desperate desire to attach to something. And that attachment can make us feel in control, safe, certain. If we’ve lived with a specific identity a long time, it feels very comfortable (even if it’s no longer authentic and we’re dying to shed that old skin).
Yesterday I was mother of the year. It all felt so easy. I was thinking – she’s my little sidekick, I can do everything & nothing with her; it’s so fun to just hang out together. Then today happened. Where everything made my daughter throw a tantrum.
The simple act of dressing my child went like this. If she had words of her own, this is what she would have said:
“I want to wear overalls with no shirt!!! How dare you offer me a t-shirt!
I don’t want to wear these overalls!! I want to wear a t shirt with a dress!
Get me out of these overalls!” (THIS SHOULD ALL BE WRITTEN IN CAPS, I am realizing)
There was lots of physical violence (on her part) towards any clothes I handed her, and lots of high pitched screaming (again, on her part).
By the end of the exchange, this mama wanted to throw her own tantrum. And I felt like the worst mom in the world (plotting ways to escape from this insane person called a toddler).
I wonder if, in that moment, my daughter was reflecting my own internal struggle, my own journey of trying things on, thinking I know what I want, only to start sweating, and getting red in the face and metaphorically screaming, “get this identity off of me”.
When I left Corporate America people would ask me what that was like. How it felt? Well, I suddenly had something I wanted very badly: the precious gift of deciding how I got to spend my own time. It WAS absolutely liberating. But I make less money. And the extrovert in me loves the camaraderie of being on a team with a larger purpose. And I have more pressure from a responsibility standpoint (I own this company, after all).
So now I get the luxury of more time, but the struggle of less money & less co-worker collaboration yet more responsibility which can weigh heavily on my single pair of shoulders. Humans are born to struggle. It’s pretty much “the human condition”. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, or love, or time…you will find something else to struggle against. In fact, we often struggle against the very life we designed ourselves. It’s how we grow, and evolve, and what makes life interesting. And difficult.
SO, who am I? And I a business owner or a business executive? Am I a mom? A good mom? Am I an entrepreneur? There is no fixed identity. To think you will do and be the same thing for 50 years is at worst, sheer madness, and at best, an antiquated notion of earlier generations when the husband went to work at the same company for 40 years (while the woman stayed home and raised the kids). We have choices now, and with choice come new challenges. It’s complicated.
So possibly the better question to ask is not “who am I?”, but rather, “who do I want to be?”
And from there, the next – more important, deeper – question to ask is: who would I be without the external identities of “what I do for a living”, or the relationship I’m in, for example. If you stripped away those “validators”, who are you?
If that question causes you some anxiety, that’s worth noticing too. Nothing to judge, but to notice. Because the universe occasionally steps in and strips us of those identities whether we’re ready or not. Company lay offs, your wife filing for divorce, etc. etc.
By asking this question, you can drill down a bit to see what makes you unique. And what individual gifts you might bring to the world. That sounds good, right?
On a good day, who I am and who I want to be ARE the same person:
- being of service
- being curious / learning
- finding joy and laughter
- available to find wonder
- feeling deeply
- connecting with others authentically & mindfully
- firmly rooted in my convictions & integrity but open to changing
Your list may look completely different, btw. You may have an unquenchable desire to create. Or you need to explore the world more than most. But you’ll notice I didn’t mention any external identities like “Executive” or “Business Owner” or even being “an awesome mom”. Those might be good vehicles to bring my individual gifts to the world. Being a coach & consultant allows me to be of service, for example. But they are simply vehicles. Not my actual identity. And at this age, I’ve tried a lot of those external identities on. And at various stages, they fit pretty damn well. They even looked good on me. Until they didn’t anymore.
- Single. Married. Divorced. With a Partner. Maybe I’ll get married again!
- No kids. Kid. But not KIDS plural, thank you very much.
- Student. Teacher. Mentor. Perpetual student of life.
- Worker Bee. Manager. Work for someone else. Entrepreneur. Work for myself. Work with others.
- Child. Sibling. Niece. Aunt. Parent. All.
- Individual. Part of a whole. Both.
I’m all of it. And none of it.
Asking these questions reminds me that it’s the journey (and how we walk it) that defines us. That makes up an entire life. Not the destination. So go ahead and wear the overalls without a t-shirt, or wear the dress (with a t-shirt!), and then take them all off. Run naked if you like.
And be more you with each step.
PS: thank you for seeing me as I struggle with my own growth and my own uncertainty about life’s big questions.