We've all been programmed (from when we were crawling, to being able to walk) to go to school, get good grades, go to College/University, and then get a comfortable, safe, secure, and high paying job. Oh, and get a mortgage, and get married, and have a dog with 2.5 kids. How is that plan working out for you, in all seriousness?
At some point, identity crisis' come to you in a heartbeat; no different to how quickly soap removes dirt. It is fair to say that many of us (in some way, shape or form) have broken the contract that the system has initially designed for us to follow. That is not intentional. Carving out your own path to happiness with a stick-able identity is kudos to a life well lived.
A combination of expected and unexpected events twist your identity; no different to feeling like you and your psyche have been put in a dishwasher, to be then thoroughly rinsed out, and then spun dry.
It is through experimentation, and going through the ebbs and flows of life that we come to our true identity in every single area of life. This is why it can feel like stepping on thin ice if you notice a major turning point and identity shift; even if that happens in only one life area. For many, identity shifts happen in our careers, yet truth be known, identity shifts are prevalent in our health, relationships, spirituality, finances, and with the things that we own and enjoy. Pet ownership is another form of identity, in the notion that you are a dog and/or a cat owner for instance.
Saying that life is a journey, and as wild as the maze in Hampton Court is a sheer understatement. It does not have to take a crisis (either individually or collectively) for us to boycott certain brands, for better or for worse for example. Knowing that our identities are in flux, and are open, receptive, and resilient to change, rather than resisting such is the golden key to healthy identity shifts. Identity shifts can either be positive or negative. And even addictive. Some identity shifts might require some chutzpah and heavy lifting on your end; no different to the amount of fuel a plane burns in order to take off.
For practical examples, I would have to say that I personally have grappled with my identity in my career and health, as well as when it comes to an intimate relationship.
Anyone with a chronic illness (even a long-term acute illness) comes to eventually accept their grief of becoming an unwell person, that that is their karma, whether they are a personable person or not. Some people do recover, and with that, recovery from a long-term illness definitely comes with a tremendous shift in one's identity. You feel lost, and often devoid of the attention, empathy, and compassion that you received from a myriad of different health professionals. You are on your own, let back out into that brave and overwhelming world, having to navigate your own care plan for a change.
It feels strange to constantly visit your team of medical professionals, as well as spending time in hospital, to now having the freedom and the privacy of your own body; let alone your entire life. When you make the identity shift from illness to wellness; your time is your own again.
It is freeing to no longer needing to take prescription medication in order to barely survive, when you leave the confines of long-term illness. Speaking from personal experience here. Taking natural supplements exudes a different form of identity, as the latter is usually taken by choice.
Making a shift from illness to health, a battle in and of itself also means that your identity will also shift in other life areas as a result of having more energy as the by-product of recovering, as well as having more cash in the bank, that you once had to spend on medical bills and treatments to name. And being able to breathe your own oxygen, without having to rely on borrowed air.
You are now on your own, and now it is up to you to parent your own body and mind, so that you can do your utmost to stay healthy and well, even though viruses, accidents, inflections, and other unexpected twists and turns is that game called life.
Many of you know that being fully single comes with a sudden identity shift, and naturally, it takes more time and energy to heal from break ups with the ending of a marriage; let alone some other form of long-term relationship. That shift from married to divorced, and now single is a steep uphill battle. Taking some necessary space for yourself, by engaging in some healing (that could include therapy) and self care will help you shift through your new identity that much faster; even though it can (and does) become a rocky and painful process...a true identity crisis. That is where the five stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) also comes and makes an afternoon tea visit, and it is that type of pesky house-guest who wants to linger for as long as possible. Over time, you will find another mate, or you might find yourself happier in living the single life. The latter is my identity, although that could also change in a heartbeat, if an amazing man comes along and sweeps me off my feet so to speak. Even a recent experience in recruiting a match-maker has not brought any matches my way as yet.
Being single comes with more freedom to choose how you plan your day, let alone your whole life, without needing to consult your significant other from wanting to attend a yoga event, to more complicated things from choosing as to whether or not to buy or rent a home, and why.
In relation to the above, when you are clear on your identity; you will raise your standards, boundaries, and ideals by default.
The biggest turning point in my career came in late 2019, with burning out at the time being a crisis; yet today it is now seen as a blessing. Despite the severe bushfires hitting Australia at the same time I resigned from a sales management role in the corporate world, in order to rest and re-charge for a beautiful IT career that was kind of waiting for me, where I would be in a specialty where I could take my service, research and sales background to; the path was still not as linear as it could have been. When the bushfires ended, along came a once in 100-year pandemic that tested, and therefore took all of our identities and pain bodies (in all major areas of life) for a wild roller coaster ride. One that would make anyone spew at the end.
These identity twists and turns not only delayed the launch of my new career as a UX Designer (which I am still doing today, with a few add ons for variety to continue to be the spice of life here); yet such kept me in a not quite right job past its use by date, which I was grateful to finally quit back in March 2021, after grappling with my true identify for way longer than anticipated, as the identity shift from employee to business owner was not flawless in any sense; whereas today, that identity as a freelancer and my own boss is as tough as nails. It is like that proverbial door is now nailed back, with time, healing, love, empathy, acceptance, and compassion of self. It was ever so real, and thankfully for my sake. My identity is solid when I am a freelancer who can work when I want, wherever I want, and with whoever I want to work with. The luxury of also working from home, and in getting paid to travel, while wearing comfortable clothing (yes, active-wear bike pants in summer) is like a dream come true, all while having my health back for a few months now.
You know that your identity is being tested, and when you are off kilter with your etched in new identity is when you vent your frustrations from imperfections and others double standards - which is different from complaining mind you. Furthermore, you are wide awake and conscious to both the good, as well as the not so great things happening, either individually or collectively as a whole. Unexpected back pain was my arch-nemesis earlier this year, with only a week left of a Government temporary assignment was a tell tale sign, and a lesson that had to be learnt. Needless to say, receiving two physiotherapy treatments and being forced to finish that assignment up early for the sake of my physical and mental health made it crystal clear to me that my identity in my career firmly lies in working for myself. The down periods are only temporary, and then you find yourself inundated and suddenly drowning in work, unable to catch your thoughts. The more subtle signs of only having 30 minutes to buy and to eat a healthy salad for lunch on someone else's timeline is not what I call freedom, although some of you might call it as such.
Rejection is protection of your etched in identity. For future client meetings (just in case) as a self employed freelancer in the IT industry; it therefore felt appropriate to keep a couple of suits in my wardrobe from my previous life. Otherwise I sold and gave away the rest of my suits upon leaving the corporate world in late 2019, and then mainly going it alone from there on in, with the exception of a permanent part-time job to get me through the thick of the early stages of the pandemic, with a few temporary assignments on top. Now my business is seriously at the point where it is strong, and it does not want any extra interference; and therefore as an entrepreneur, I need to be comfortable with no routine, and hence be more comfortable with freedom, independence, beating procrastination, as well as dealing with a yo-yo style income. You will be shocked to know that I have not worn those two suits that I kept since September 2019 to any client meeting or function since. The IT industry is known for its staff and contractors to wear neat jeans or active-wear pants, and denim skirts with a company or industry t-shirt; whereas in sales management, dressing up is the norm.
With a shift in identity, it is ok to earn a bit less doing what you love, and funnily enough, your bank account balance is better off than when you earned more money in a job/career that is contradictory to your true identity. In other words, something you did not enjoy. Suits can feel as scary as reading any ten Stephen King books in a row at random for some of us, while for others, they either enjoy wearing such, or they are just so used and accustomed to that system, like a hamster spinning its wheels.
Furthermore, it is fair to say that selling a house at any point of the property market is not only a litmus test of a person's character; it is rightly so, because day by day, hour by hour during the process, you are grappling with a true identity crisis; from being a landlord and property owner, to soon (touch wood, and that is the aim) becoming someone who no longer owns property (if you are selling the only property that you own and control of course), and who is free from the burdens of having to deal with tenants, psycho property managers, strata, regular bills, paying for maintenance, and laughing all the way to the bank, when you can finally kiss that mortgage goodbye on settlement day. The tears that came on settlement day of selling a home in Sydney, Australia that yours truly once owned for 16 long years were more tears of relief, combined with the stress and anxiety of being spun around, and enduring a lot of turbulence (from interacting with the sales agent, to cleaning and checking up on the home, to dealing with old tenants mail, and even three rescinded contracts prior) in shifting one's identity to a more calmer lifestyle on the unconventional path, while suddenly carving out a new identity that involves less stress, no tenants, no debt, and a healthy six figure sum in savings (not to impress, but rather to impress upon) that has brought me my future as a self employed business owner; even though things do pass, and nothing is truly permanent. More money in the bank also keeps you humble in tough, recessionary times; and every dollar saved is more of a future that you do not need to pay for, and to buy through selling your skills and services.
Grappling with your sense of identity in more than one area of your life at a time (like what yours truly had to endure, marathon style over the last few years) is far from easy. Even just in one area at a time. There are things that you know that you need to do to free yourself up, so that you are grappling with an identity crisis less and less. Even engaging in minor self care activities that resonates is the golden ticket to dealing with that rocky transition period that comes with every single identity shift, no matter how simple on the surface or otherwise.
Update: My new identity of being a healthy person was tested on a recent travelling experience, which resulted in a panic attack for a couple of days before Christmas Eve. Anxiety, heart palpitations, problems breathing, and a complete lack of appetite sent me to hospital the day before Christmas Eve for a few hours. The recent hospital photos are below. Thankfully my tested identity has (now also) been rinsed out since. Working on my freelance work has been a pleasant distraction, among other fun activities since being discharged later that same day. (May 2024 be a better year for us all).
About the Creator
Freelance Internet Moderator/UX Writer/UX Consulting Designer/Graphic Designer
Lives in Sydney, Australia. Loves life.