Updated: Apr 8
If you’ve ever been to a party and been asked “what do you do?” you might have noticed that sometimes our career is all that we ask each other about. “I’m a dentist”, you might say, and that is the end of it. It is as though being a dentist is the only thing that defines you.
Our identities are in fact much more broad. Our sense of identity can include: past experiences that shaped us, our faith or lack thereof, our past-times and pleasures, our beliefs, our dreams, our heritage, our interests, our gifts and strengths, our politics, where we’ve chosen to travel, our roles, which pets we have, and the people we love and love us in return.
We can all be challenged to expand who we think we are to notice and include these into our sense of identity.
This is especially important for those of us who have had losses in our lives. Sometimes these are real losses, like a job, a partner, our health, or financial security, and sometimes they are futures we dreamed of or expected to have. These are tragic and devastating, and as time passes we can pine endlessly for these losses and roles. We can also come to believe that once they are gone there is nothing left by which to define and value ourselves.
There is a quote by George Bernard Shaw which reads “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” In other words, we may spend a long time trying to go back to a person we once were, believed we were, or expected to become. This may represent putting a lot of grief and effort into a task or way of being that may not be possible. On the other hand, each day that comes is one where we could start anew, embrace a new path for ourselves, and build an achievable new life from the one we have now. We’ve even often gained new skills, strengths, and insights from our challenge, which we can bring with us as we forge our way on a new journey with new self-definitions.