When we navigate life changes we might also struggle with aspects of our identity. Who we once thought we were changes shape, and we're often left asking the question, "Who am I?" This can be incredibly stressful, on many levels.
When we befriend all aspects of Self - dark, light, joy, sadness, our sharp and soft edges - we can be more fully present with others’. We are offered shades of insight we wouldn’t otherwise know without loss, challenge, and (real and perceived) limitations.
And I know - on a cellular level - a little something about navigating the stress of identity and life changes, both planned and unplanned:
Weight: As a former woman of size, I have extensive experience living with obesity, disordered eating, and distorted body image. I also learned how to inhabit a body - and world - that felt awkward and unfamiliar after my healthy 80-pound weight loss. I was confronted with deep existential questions about who I thought I was. I have come to understand that, yes, I have a body, but I am not my body. The body is always in transition, and its size and shape will change.
Medical: I live with a neurodevelopmental condition that has affected every aspect of my life since birth, and which profoundly informs how I move through the world. After 42 years of struggling without the necessary supports, I finally received the correct medical diagnosis. This has been simultaneously confusing, upsetting, validating, and profoundly life-changing. It's as if I've been wearing the wrong lenses my whole life, and I can now finally wear the correct prescription. Both nothing - and everything - changed about who I thought I am. I am not my diagnosis, and yet it explains so much. Such is the paradox of identity.
Grief: I lost five of my most meaningful relationships in rapid succession while in isolation during the height of lockdown in the pandemic. I learned that grief is dynamic and never fully leaves us, and that healing is a messy process. We must grieve what we lost in order to more authentically and gracefully unfold into our next chapter - with the recognition that grief can also be a gift. We are offered the opportunity to see clearly, to reinvent ourselves, to prioritize what's really important to us when it feels like we are starting from scratch on razed soil. This is not easy.
Moving: In my early 30s, I moved to a new city in a different state - 1,000 miles away - for a dream job, alone, and without a support network. The difficulty of creating a new life for myself cannot be overstated.
Career: I resigned from my longtime career as a highly accomplished classroom teacher to pursue a more sustainable quality of life and to start two businesses. I tried leaving the profession three times, each during a different school year. But I kept coming back because I didn't know who I was outside of my career and professional accomplishments. If I wasn't a teacher, who was I? So much more, it turns out. So. Much. More.
And you are too.
Here is what I have been learning about navigating life changes: my identity is not defined by any of these things. Sure, these aspects of myself inform how I move through the world. It can feel deeply unsettling when there is any change to who we thought we were.
But the thing is, change is just a part of life, whether we like it or not.
We might not always be able to control what changes in our lives, but I find it empowering -- and profoundly reassuring -- to know that I have the ability to choose my response to change. Simple, but not easy.
Maybe you can relate to some of this? Or maybe you want more help as you navigate through. I would love to support you. Explore more here.
(photo credit: Matthew Henry)