I used to believe my work identity was who I was. It wasn't until I didn't have a job for a period of time that I realised just how much I had derived my sense of worth and sense of self from my work. Without the work piece securely in place in my life, I felt lost to myself, less worthy a person, rudderless.
Perhaps you can relate to disappearing into your career, relationship, parenting or a carer role, where you've become so identified with what you're doing, you've somehow lost your self in the process. You've forgotten who you are outside of the role you're in or maybe you just never knew who you were in the first place.
Whilst your job and the roles you take on in life are important for the period you’re immersed in them (some far more than others), the truth is you are so much more than any of the roles you play. I'm sure you know this intellectually, but to live it is as a truth is another matter entirely.
For when you take on roles like motherhood or a job that requires a huge amount of your energy and attention, you can gradually structure your entire life, routines, relationships and even behaviour around the role. You create an identity around the role - I'm a Mum. I'm the boss. I'm married.
It's like putting on a mask. If you’ve worn the same mask for a while, pretty soon you forget you're wearing a mask and come to believe it's all of who you are. You become your identity, forgetting there are entire parts of you on hold, patiently waiting for you to come back and breathe some life into them. When you're ready of course.
That's why it's crucial to remember you are so not what you do.
Because ultimately, roles come to an end. Nothing stays the same and so if what you’ve identified so strongly with over the years suddenly ends, there can be a huge sense of loss, disorientation and turmoil as you realise the extent of your abandonment from yourself. And if you were getting most of your sense of worth and self-esteem needs from this one role, it can be an even greater crash.
That’s when you may ask: Who am I? What’s my value? What’s my worth?
These questions are challenging but crucial to explore. For to rediscover your self, you have to extricate yourself from the identities that gave you a sense you were someone of worth because you held a particular role. Can you see where I'm headed with this?
You're already worthy and valuable because you exist! Not because you played a role, even if it was to the best of your ability!
Because worthiness is an inner state. Believing and knowing you are enough no matter what you do in the world: that's self-worth.
This is why when you are trying to reclaim the parts of you that are lost, you may need to unravel the beliefs and assumptions that tied your worth and value to the role you were in. And take the time you need to grieve the loss of what you've left behind. What you valued.
Clear the slate.
Even though it's challenging, sometimes I think we're meant to lose ourselves, and let go of who we think need to be, so we can figure out who we are, so we can continue to evolve, expand and grow in our lives. Recognising you are lost becomes the pointer, the red flag amongst the white noise calling you back home.
Daniel Siegel, well-known psychiatrist and author of Mindsight, stresses the importance of mental flexibility over rigid thinking. I believe this applies to identity too. If you can learn to hold your identity lightly, with more flexibility and more compassion, and remember you are infinitely more than any role you play, you will create space for the potential of what you don't yet know about yourself to show up when it's time for your own growth.
Have you lost yourself to a role? I'd love to hear your comments, and please feel free to share on social media.