“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you really are.” Joseph Campbell
This past week I was visiting with a friend, a wise and trusted OB-GYN. She shared that she is experiencing some sadness and grief. After many decades, she is preparing to shift her role in her group practice and no longer deliver babies. “It’s been such a pivotal piece of who I am,” she said.
I’ve been doing a lot of belly button gazing lately on the theme of identity and how I want to use my precious energy and talents over the next 40 years (assuming I’m working until I’m 88!).
Questioning our identity comes up for many once we hit 40 and begin to navigate big life stuff–divorces, shifts in our health, financial changes, career and job moves. It seems like the early decades of my life were spent building up a “personae”: entrepreneur, work-life balance expert, mother/wife, coach, teacher/speaker, trainer, author, community activist–and now I’m curious: What happens when I dismantle this identity? When I ask the bigger question of who am I, really?
We tend to think identity is set, or static (it can often look that way in the first half of our life), but as we age and wizen, we see it’s really just a construct of the mind. Our identity is fluid. In a flash we can become a widow, an overnight best-selling author, a person “in transition,” (a popular bus stop for many in mid-life), a cancer patient or an empty nester.
This past Friday I led a work-life balance workshop for entrepreneurs. I reminded the amazing women gathered that we can’t experience sustainable financial success if our inner world and outer world are not in balance. Knowing ourselves–our hopes, dreams, fears and hidden beliefs–is crucial to our ability to manifest in the world. True balance is created from the inside out. Usually when we feel anxious or depressed it’s because we’re disconnected from our inner life and how we are feeling about what’s going on around us. Think of this “inner work” as a way to provide nourishment to our overall well-being (here’s a chance to practice this–grab a journal and a pen and reflect on the questions below).
As I explore the concept of identity the questions I’m asking right now are:
-What are the labels I have placed on myself and which ones do I most identify with at this life stage and which ones am I ready to let go of?
-How has my perception of who I am changed in the last 12 years (since my son was born)?
-If all of the personas or titles fell away, what’s left? Who am I really?
-What (and who) helps me remember who I really am–my true nature?
Buddhist teachers often talk about things being “real but not true.” (Ex: I’m unemployed and I’m a failure. Yes you’re unemployed. A failure? I think not.) I find this incredibly helpful when I reflect on my identity and discern what is real but not true. I’m aging and I’m going to be reclaimed by the earth as some point (as my yoga teacher says). But who I am–my essence, my true nature–eclipses any label or title. As I open up to what is uniquely mine to do in the next 40 years, I find myself moving more slowly. Pausing. And listening more than speaking. I find this pace is more suited to one who doesn’t want to miss the wise whispers that shower my awareness and sing in my ear–just when I need to hear them the most.
INVITE: Want support for accessing your Wise Self (your true nature) and hearing what your next steps should be? Join me June 20-22 at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Wellness and view all our upcoming retreats.
Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by work-life balance speaker/author and Career Strategists president, Renée Peterson Trudeau. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining self-renewal groups based on her award-winning curriculum. She is the author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal and Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 12 year-old son. More on her background here.
Photo: Me and my dear brother Kert, at ages 5 and 4 (I’m one year older). As the oldest of 7 kids, my nurturing nature showed up very early in life. It’s interesting to see how this quality became such a big part of my work later in life.