Shedding identities

Thursday, August 2, 2018 Permalink

I’ve talked before about the fact I sometimes have a million browser screens open on my phone at any one time as I click on Facebook links to read articles of interest. If they require further pondering they’ll usually remain open for days. Or weeks… as I try to wrap my mind around concepts or understand my own weird and random reactions.

Interestingly I read two such articles on the weekend. Well, they were about the same thing. One (via Tiny Buddha) was a lighter take on the subject… of changing our identity – the author talking about going from the workplace to become a wife / partner, to mother and potentially an empty-nester – and so forth. The other (via No Sidebar), was the one that caught my attention and more about the fact we often ‘need’ to shed old identities in order to move forward with our lives.

It was this quote that caught my attention.

shedding identities

And I realised, like author (Britt) I’ve occasionally held on tightly to past identities.

Unlike many who find their identities tied up with – for example – being a mother / father / grandparent or wife etc… mine have always been about my work and I’ve written about this before.

And like Britt, I’ve had A LOT of work identities… from child protection worker, international development worker to project manager to diplomat and so forth…

I’ve assumed my identity has been too much about my professions because of my lack of life outside of work, but it occurs to me that it’s also because I don’t have a clear picture of ‘who’ I am…. possibly being stuck in the past, or awaiting the future.

For a long time I grieved the young person I was (but briefly) – the slim 15-19yr old one that people found attractive, did well at sport and seemed to have potential.

For the next 20-30 years I felt I’d let that girl down. That was the ‘me’ I was supposed to be and the ‘me’ I was instead wasn’t ‘right’. I wasn’t accepting the person I’d become… not living in the ‘now’, rather I was living in the past (grieving the me I once was) and the future (waiting to become someone more worthy).

Britt (in the article) notes that more often than not we (our values / principles / personalities) don’t really change. Only the exterior changes; the ‘us’ that everyone else sees. Or the us we think they see.

And yes, I realise I too have spent years cultivating a certain image and how I want to be perceived and letting go of that can be hard. It’s not just a piece of my/our history but it feels like it’s a piece of who we believe ourselves to be. And yet… the thing I also connected with in the article was the fact that sometimes the stress and anxiety experienced in trying to hold onto something or someone we aren’t is harder than letting it go.

I’ve changed a lot…. and I mean A LOT over the past few years. But in many ways I’m still clinging onto the person I’ve always seen myself to be – or (more importantly, perhaps) think others expect me to be. I’ve not given myself the space to become (or ‘be’) who I am now.

And that needs to change.

Do you define yourself by roles in your personal or professional life? Do you have a clear picture of who you are or want to be; or perhaps cling onto past identities? 

The Lovin’ Life team includes:

20 Comments
  • leannelc
    August 2, 2018

    Deb I always enjoy your posts because (although you might call it navel gazing) I really like being given the opportunity to reflect and my journey is often mirrored in the things you discuss. Midlife is such a time of unraveling ourselves and then trying to figure out what to do with what’s left over. Sue Loncaric and I discuss this in regard to blogging as well – why do we do it? What are we expecting from it? Why keep going? And I think there are elements of those questions in our ageing process as well – who, what, when, where, and why? are constants in the back of my head. No answers yet, other than to let go and to give myself some grace as I figure it all out. I’d wish the same for you xx

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2018

      Ha! I just wrote something a bit similar in my comment on your post – about this really feeling like a time of change for me. It’s almost as if ‘midlife’ (as such) has crept up on me and I know I want to make some (more) changes, but just not sure what yet.

  • Jo
    August 2, 2018

    I like how we evolve and transform and all those other words. I also like how often we don’t notice tat we have until we have…if that makes sense. I remember it took me ages to remove myself from my title and my profession. I still don’t really know who I am and I’m positive that the way I see myself – short, fat, boring – is completely different to how others see me.

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2018

      Oh Jo it most definitely is and I hope you know how inspiring you are to me – all that you accomplish and your drive and your commitment as well as your outlook on life. VERY inspiring. (And somewhat envious!) x

  • Denyse Whelan
    August 2, 2018

    Dear Deb.
    I wonder if at any time with your identities you have liked them/her? I know from experience that the self-dislike runs strong in me and I have relied on roles, images, others’ opinions on me. I have lived what does not seem truly ME for so many decades I have had no idea (really!) till now. Perhaps it took something like cancer to wake me up, yet I know this cancer is not going to kill me…for a long time if at all. I guess, I have, for 99% of my life tried to please: parents, grandparents, school friends, work colleagues, husband, kids, grandkids and more….and only NOW do I consider pleasing me.
    It is a tiring and not helpful way to live. I sought accolade, praise, awards, degrees and whilst I enjoyed much of this time, and the achievements felt good inside, they were also to please and impress others.
    So, I now have more time on my hands than ever and for the first time I give myself permission to: do nothing, or do something! Yes I have a most accommodating husband and I need to remember his needs too but I am getting much better at speaking up for what I need and want and pleasing me. In fact, I am liking me more now than ever. Mind you, I revert to type often and it shows in my gut feelings when I do. I am compromised and unhappy.
    Until you can sort yourself from those roles, images and more, Deb will not appear. I sure hope she does because I reckon she is a the best thing that could happen to you.
    Essay over.
    Denyse x

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2018

      Denyse me self-worth and self-image is far too much derived from how I think others perceive me. I’m really struggling with confidence at work as I feel as if a couple of people just don’t think I’m doing a good job and it’s really had me flummoxed as I’ve been doing everything I possibly can and more. Naturally I discount the (stack) of others who say nice things and focus only on the couple of people I get no positive feedback from and feel quite demoralised.

      Perhaps this workplace is unhealthy for me for that reason? Not sure. I feel quite confident with most of what I do at work but the self-doubt creeps in so easily.

  • writeofthemiddle
    August 2, 2018

    I can relate very much to what you say here. I sometimes feel like the 15 year old me and I often grieve the loss of the 15-20 year old version of myself who was skinny, flat stomached, toned, fun, carefree etc. Then there is the me of my 30’s that in reality I still think I am … until I catch sight of myself and realise she has actually gone and in her place is a woman in her 50’s. Then there is the loss of identity I suffered when I left my corporate life. I was very much my career and work self. So without that, who was I now? I’m still me throughout all these stages of life but my priorities, likes, dislikes and taste have changed continually. I’m the weirdest version of me right now … a lot more reclusive than the social butterfly younger version of myself. It’s an interesting topic! 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2018

      I wonder if I’d be more contented if I had grandmotherhood and the like to look forward to – as if there’s something grounding me for the future, but then again I wouldn’t want that to define me. I suspect it’s because I’m yet again about to go through some change I’m really trying to understand what it all means!

      I think you’ve really got some good balance going in your life at the moment Min and I think that’s great – you’ve worked hard to get there.

  • Kathy Marris
    August 2, 2018

    Life circumstances do change us as we age and evolve through the stages. I am a much changed person and I really like who I am now and no longer feel the need to be attractive or compete with others. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. I think by the time we reach 50 we start to sort our identities out!

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2018

      Maybe that’s the cause of my discomfort / confusion…. the whole turning 50 thing? Sadly I still feel that competitive thing: even though I made a conscious decision to ‘drop out’ of the full-time workforce 5-6yrs ago, I still feel I should be more ambitious / further progressed; that I should be more attractive or at least partnered up; more financially secure so I’m not stressing about looming unemployment.

  • Jodie
    August 2, 2018

    Wow…this is very enlightening. And totally true. I spent years when I was working as a dentist, trying to portray the serious and professional person I thought i should be. Yet I think I lost some of the fun while doing this…..
    That’s why “fun” was my word of the year. It’s not easy to change that thinking, but i’m trying!!
    XOXO
    Jodie
    http://www.jtouchofstyle.com

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2018

      I remember discovering you were a dentist Jodie and being quite shocked. It’s a reminder that ‘what we do’ isn’t necessarily who we are or perhaps more that we / I have certain perceptions of others or other professions. I know of a couple of bloggers who are lawyers and doctors and I was surprised to discover that. I loved that they had this whole online life that didn’t require them to talk about what they did (for a job). I think that’s really healthy which is perhaps where I go a bit wrong.

  • Natalie
    August 3, 2018

    Thought-provoking questions, Deb. I don’t define myself by roles in my personal or professional life. They change over time and each has a limited amount of time attached to it. I think by labeling our roles we limit ourselves. Each of us is capable to do a lot more than a handful of roles. I’ve always had self-confidence to do things my way. I think it started from my first solo adventure and grew from there. I know I like a variety of activities. They keep me engaged and I haven’t spent time thinking about what others may think of me.

    • Debbish
      August 4, 2018

      Defining myself by my work role has probably been the problem for me as it’s changed throughout the years as I’ve changed professions quite a bit. Interestingly the project I’m on now is in the health sector and there’s a very definite demarcation… nurse vs social worker / OT etc / admin person. It’s a bit of a weird environment for me as I’m not accustomed to the need to ‘define’ someone by their profession when many are essentially doing the same thing!

  • Sue
    August 5, 2018

    I enjoyed reading your post and could relate to your thoughts on grieving the person you once were. For me the most difficult of these identity crises was forced upon me when my ex-husband left after a long marriage, and I was suddenly no longer his (or anyone’s) wife, lover, or best friend. I was also no longer “successfully married”, and this had been how I’d always thought of myself, but I had no choice except to let that go (or go under). The adjustment and the grieving was long and really hard, but it brought about changes in me for which I’m grateful.
    That’s why, after reading the blog post you referenced, I disagreed with some of what the author says (and I think she contradicts herself a little too). In particular I don’t agree that “….. people change. But not fundamentally”. I know it’s definitely possible to change fundamentally, not just from a once-in-a-lifetime experience but as part of an ongoing changing and growing process. I am not the same person that I once was, and I’m also not yet who I will be. That’s ongoing heart change, for which I’m absolutely thankful.
    I enjoy the way you think and write so honestly about your life Deb xx

    • Debbish
      August 5, 2018

      I wondered about her comments about people fundamentally not changing as well. Naturally I pondered on things like our values and beliefs and then our behaviour – what changes and evolves and what doesn’t. It seems very scientifically incorrect to think that something can be ‘basically good’ and remain that way.

      I love that you’ve let go of the identities or roles you’ve felt you played in the past. I don’t tend to think of myself as a ‘daughter’ or ‘sister’ or ‘aunt’ or ‘friend’ and I wonder if that’s because the roles of parent / partner are defined differently in society?

  • Natalie Peck McNamara
    August 5, 2018

    I teach a concept called the thought cycle and part of it is we have no control over the past and ways to let go. Most people smile and nod their heads like “yes Of course you can’t change the past’ but in reality, so many of live via the past and not the future. It is very refreshing to let go and realise the reason you are such a beautiful, inspiring and empathetic woman today, is because of your past.

    • Debbish
      August 5, 2018

      Ah yes, it’s something I recognise…. that I need to be better at letting go of the past or at least, accepting it and – as you said – recognise the benefits it’s bestowed upon me today!

  • Sanch @ Sanch Writes
    August 5, 2018

    I really like these posts of your because not only do they give me an insight into your thoughts and you, but they also help me reflect on me. I think I do cling to my professional identity of being a psychologist a bit too much which is why, even when burnt out at times, I’m unsure if I should change careers etc as I’m too tied in in with this person. Yet, interestingly, I think I am ok with who I am. I have reached a stage through therapy and self-reflection of being content with who I am. I am glad I’m not the person I was in my teens and maybe even in my early twenties. If anything, I have matured, I have grown a lot. I accept my imperfections a lot more without beating myself up too much. And yes, I have changed a lot and am okay with that 🙂 Will I feel the same in a decade? Only time will tell

    • Debbish
      August 7, 2018

      I think I accept my imperfections far more than I used to (also) Sanch.

      The identity thing is funny as (every so often) I think about giving up blogging or book reviewing as it’s such a massive part of my life and such a bit commitment, but then I’m not sure what’s left… and I probably feel more tied to that identity than my project manager-self.

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