Thursday, December 12, 2013

That's My Work, Not My Whole Self

Identity crisis is a group effort.

It may manifest in the individual, but it’s magnified by the collective.

When you realize you’re done doing that which defined you, giving up a self that you have come to identify with and call our own, courageously leaving behind a world you know so well––maybe the only world you’ve ever known and felt home in––the first brand of devastation that manifests is existential.

Imagine an entrepreneur who retires or quits or sells her company after ten years of painstaking work. It’s like she doesn’t know who she is without the business. Nor does she know how to cope with reality in its absence. She’s become a stranger to her own life.

But then comes the other brand of devastation.

When the identity crisis magnifies socially.

And it makes perfect sense.

Humans understand the self in the context of other people. We regulate our emotions and understand the world by connecting with others. And we form our identities based on what we hear ourselves say to people.

Back to our example of the entrepreneur. Without the company attached to her anymore, other people don’t know to relate to her anymore. Because for so many years, that was her chief form of identification. She made the business the most important thing about her. People couldn’t tell where she ended and the company began. And in their eyes, she was always going to be nailed to that cross.

But that’s my work, not my whole self, she says to herself.

Exactly.

Since identity is a social construct, until she changes her attitude about what her role in the world is, nobody will be able to tell the difference between her work and her whole self.

Which means, she needs to reeducate people. To teach them how to treat her and what to call her. And to live her life in a way that proclaims to the world:

I am bigger than my past. I am surrendering my case history. I am outgrowing yesterday’s definition of myself. I am becoming more than what I am known for. I am living larger than my labels.

And with a ton of work, slowly, the new self starts to emerge.