The early decades of life often provide a built-in, already prescribed identity for many. We are students, then perhaps spouses, professionals, parents, or maybe all of those at once.
Our identity is so intertwined with these roles, and the many related tasks, that we don’t pause to consider whether our identity is what we want it to be. Or whether we’ve lost ourselves in the busyness of driving the mom taxi, climbing the corporate ladder, or being our husband’s wife.
Then, one day, the nest empties, and those seemingly endless parenting tasks no longer need to be done. The days of climbing the ladder felt long, but suddenly retirement draws near.
Life throws us curveballs – sometimes illness, other times profound loss. We find ourselves at a crossroad without a map and with our identity in question.
At such a critical juncture, our thoughts matter more than ever. Are the best years in the past? Is the future uncertain and filled with fear? Are you completely lost? Notice what your brain is offering you and remember that we should never believe everything we think.
Thoughts are powerful because they create feelings, which prompt action, which ultimately produce results – for better or worse. Our human brains often send us fearful thoughts, especially during times of transition. This is simply a sign that our brains are attempting to keep us safe during times of uncertainty.
But the good news is that we can direct our brains to choose any thought that feels true to us. Carefully selected, purposeful thoughts create feelings that serve us.
What if your next chapter is a blank page, and you are holding the pen? What if it is the very first time in decades that you are free of the tyranny of busy? What if your next chapter is an encore performance that no previous version of you could have pulled off?
If those thoughts feel true to you, try them on for size, and see what feelings they generate. Or come up with other thoughts that are true for you that produce useful feelings.
Step one in rebuilding identity is mind management. To unleash the power of your mind, select the thoughts that generate feelings that prompt the actions that produce the results you want in your life.
Step two is making a list of things you enjoy; things you’ve been curious about; things you’ve always wanted to learn and never had the time. Add in the things that you’re only recently starting to be curious about.
If you gave yourself permission to be a beginner, what would you do? Include things you would like to try or explore. Add in the things you always thought you would do if you only had the time. As time goes on, you can always add and delete items from your list.
With life transitions, we tend to lose connections. So, redefining one’s identity is a key opportunity to grow socially. Step three is all about creating connection in the areas that are interesting to you.
Alongside each item on your list, write the name of a friend or acquaintance who has similar passions and interests. It may be a great time to reach out and nurture your existing relationships.
You’ll likely have blanks, and that is perfectly okay. This is where you can expand your social network in new areas that interest you. MeetUp, Eventbrite, uGetTogether, and social media groups are good places to create new connections based on your blank spaces.
Expect that your brain may tell you that it is impossible to grow your connections during a pandemic. In truth, more than ever, social connections are happening virtually, and in some locations, physically distanced in-person gatherings are starting to occur.
Do what feels right to you, but don’t let your brain get away with “It’s impossible.”
By being “on to” our brains, and choosing only those thoughts that serve us, we can start to believe that this next chapter is indeed bright. From that place, we can define ourselves based on our interests and passions, and then fill our lives with people like us.
By committing to finding our authentic selves, we allow our new identity to reveal itself, and ultimately, we can become all we were meant to be.
Have you encountered a life transition that made you question your identity? How has your identity evolved over time? What have you learned as your identity has developed? Let’s have a conversation.