Over the course of this month I have been attending different webinars hosted by the World Business and Executive Coach Summit as part of its Pre-Summit Series. I have enjoyed all of the webinars in which I have participated and have found something valuable in each of them. But the one which made the greatest impression on me so far was given by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith and is called “Creating a New Identity.”
I have been thinking about the concept of identity ever since I listened to the webinar. Identity –how we see ourselves and how others see us– is a fundamental part of our existence and of all human interaction. While I imagine most of us do not give it a second thought, it actually is interesting, and certainly important, to think about.
Contrary to what many people believe, our identity is not immutable; it is not part of our DNA. We change our identity depending on our circumstances. Frequently, I am Alexa, the level-headed non-reactive insightful executive coach. At other times, I loathe to admit, I am Alexa the easily triggered disapproving ill-tempered oldest sister. Moreover, our identity changes, or perhaps should change, over time. At one time, being the all-knowing older sister may have been acceptable; it even may have benefitted my sisters in some way. However, because it no longer serves a purpose, I must make a modification.
Furthermore, identity is a choice of which we must be mindful. We need to consider whether the identity we have picked is the right fit. While it may be an oversimplification, selecting an identity is not unlike buying a pair of shoes. Do you like the shoes? Are they right size? Are they right for the occasion? With identity, we must ask some of these same questions. Do you like the person you have become? Are you behaving consistently with your core values? Is being that person helping you accomplish your goals? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it may be time for an update. I am not suggesting that you do a 180°, but it may be time for a shine and perhaps a sole replacement.
A complete conversation about identity could easily span several days and certainly would require several blog posts to exhaust. Since that is not possible here, I have identified two common “identity crises,” that after some reflection likely will resonate.
Fixing what’s not broken. You see yourself in a positive light and the world does too. Let’s say you are someone who takes on multiple projects and sees them through to completion. Those around you regularly acknowledge your accomplishments. People say things to you like: “I don’t know how you do it all.” The attention feels good. You like the spotlight, but all is not what it seems. Behind the scenes you aren’t “doing it all” well. You are exhausted, spread too thin, and paying a steep price for keeping all those balls in the air. However, making a change feels scary. If you are not the person who can do everything, who are you?
Solution. If you have assumed an identity where the costs of that identity outweigh the benefits, it is time to reevaluate who you are and the life you are leading. Think about what type of life feels more manageable, sounds more fun, or would be more satisfying. Then figure out what you need to adjust to be the type of person who has that life. Making that adjustment may not feel right at first – remember, it takes a couple of weeks to break in a new pair of shoes – but it will eventually. And, the fact is, part of you may always miss the limelight a little. However, that will be eclipsed by the daily gratification you will experience from embodying an identity that is comfortable, authentic, and real.
Not the fairest of them all. You have received feedback that there is an aspect of your identity that you need to change. You see the need too. For various reasons, it is critical that once you have adopted your new identity it is recognized by others. The challenge is that making this happen requires you to admit you were on the wrong track.
Solution. Put your pride on the shelf, your tail between your legs, and go for it. To piggyback on one of Dr. Goldsmith’s ideas, say to the people around you, “I took a long hard look at myself and saw something I did not like. I have decided to change it and I am turning to you for support and feedback about how I am doing.” Claiming the issue and the need to change it greatly increases your likelihood of success. Once you put it out there in the open it is easier to achieve. In fact, in my experience, it is three-quarters of the battle.
Roseanne Cash was right when she said that, “The Key to Change…Is to let go of Fear.” Change is terrifying. And changing who you fundamentally are is scarier still. This is why, only those who are sufficiently bold, brave, and courageous are rewarded with feeling comfortable in their own skin.