In transition? Bring on the identity crisis!
This post is dedicated to everyone who's in transition and feeling weird about talking about it to other people. I can't be the only one, right?
Going to my 10-year high school reunion was surreal and slightly awkward in a way that I think is unique to that kind of event. I enjoyed connecting with some people I hadn't spoken with in years, and there were a few surprises that night (who had beards! who had babies!).
An unexpected surprise was my shyness around my fledgling coaching practice. After all, I have a website! I have business cards!
In reality, when people asked me what I was doing, I said something like,
"I've spent a lot of time doing museum installation, but, um...I'm actually transitioning into life coaching."
If I were truly comfortable with this identity, I would have just been like, "I'm a life coach, bitches." (Bitches implied but probably not vocalized.)
Finding the useful amidst the awkward
Immediately after the event, I was frustrated with how milquetoast I'd been about it. Now, I'm actually really happy that I got such clear information about what I need to work on next.
What I wish I'd done before the reunion was recognize where I still had insecurities and fears and worked to resolve those, rather than worrying quite so much about business card design. (They are really pretty, though.)
What I did was turn a blind eye to the hard stuff inherent in starting over. Years out of high school, I wanted to look established and successful. (Hello, ego, I don't remember inviting you to the party, but here you are!) I didn't want to look shaky and in the middle of transition, and in the moment I made a snap judgment to highlight my former stable career because it felt safer.
Can I just take a moment to acknowledge all the hard here?
- It's hard to give up being an expert in exchange for looking like a newbie.
- It's hard to let go of an old identity, even if it's not serving me anymore.
- It's hard to explain why I wanted to leave a job that sounds really cool.
- It's hard to claim a (slightly cheesy-sounding) profession that many people haven't heard of and don't really understand.
By trying to ignore all the lingering resistance/fear/doubts I still had around making such a drastic change, I couldn't get to a point of feeling safe and confident about my choice. No wonder I clung to my security blanket of Respected Museum Professional™.
Now, I'm retroactively writing myself a giant permission slip.
Permission to feel weird about being in transition! Permission to be new and inexperienced! Permission to not explain why I left my old career! Permission to not care what people think! Permission to be vulnerable! Permission to be scared of all the new things I need to learn! Permission to not be perfect and have it all together! Permission to not know how it's all going to turn out!
I'm already breathing easier.
You guys, starting over is hard. There will be people who won't understand. There might be people who will even take it personally. Being willing to show up and screw up is one of the scariest things out there. Letting go of an old identity can feel a little like death.
This is where I am, and that's okay (even if it sucks).
However, I've found the secret to peace in the midst of all this chaos: accepting where I am, growing pains and all. Being able to say, "This is where I am, and it kind of sucks, and that's okay," is one of the most powerful ways I've found to claim my own experience and let it be what it is. It's when I get scared and try to present myself as an expert or totally in control that things feel icky and wrong.
If you're in transition and scared of what people will think of the changes you're making, you're not alone. And if it doesn't feel safe to talk about what's going on yet, that's okay too. Your new identity is a tiny sweet thing and deserves the right time and place to emerge - which might not be a high school reunion! Share it with people who love you, who trust you to make the right choices for yourself. And when you feel that love and trust for yourself, I hope you'll let it out so the rest of us can enjoy it, too.
Image credit: freeimages.com/Kaliyoda