I have been offered the idea this week that I am going to be entering an identity crisis as I am leaving the job I have had for the past two decades. I panicked at first – Is this where I get botox, implants? A younger lover? Start wearing really shocking outfits? Oh, I am too old for this s..t ! And then I remembered that what the gift of a crisis makes me is not pitiful but privileged:
“You have been offered “the gift of crisis”. As Kathleen Norris reminds us, the Greek root of the word crisis is “to sift”, as in, to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important. That’s what crises do. They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most. The rest falls away.”Glennon Doyle, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed
What a trap it is to think our identity is established by exterior roles we play or things we own. As I have advanced in age and (I hope) wisdom, I have come to understand that we are born with our identity intact. From moment minus one. And from moment one, everyone around us translates and molds us into what is standard, accepted, “normal”, generally into what they and the world around can live with. And it is the default for us to believe that whatever the product of that molding is, that is who we are, that is our identity.
The reference to my identity earlier this week, prompted a reflection. Is this an identity crisis? Or is it just a crisis – a process through which I am establishing what is truly important to me, what matters and what doesn’t matter anymore, what speaks to my soul and what drains it?
I have gone through many external iterations and roles over the past 45 years: good and wayward daughter, helpful and judgmental sister, model wife, whore, employee, mother, volunteer, friend, lover, straight, gay, “normal”, “not normal”, secretary, manager, kind, bitchy – and the list could go on and on. These are labels that we or others attach ( and some stick for a longer time than others and some are made from the material of my skin) but none of these on its own defines one’s identity.
I, the person born on a Wednesday in April, 45 years ago and called Catalina, am human, living exuberantly in my head, a big dreamer and an intense feeler, I value real connection and truth. This is my identity. And this, which I was born with but have grown to recognize in my third decade of life (better later than never …) represents my compass. It never changes, it was never different – just unknown to me, hidden under layers of standard. It turns out it is that easy and that hard at the exact same time to put this compass to good use: have the courage to go inwards, bring yourself to find and listen to the voice of truth there and go out in the world living like that is the only voice that matters. Because it is. It is the first one you hear when you wake up to life and the last one there to accompany your last breath.
[ A couple of important disclaimers:
- don’t judge the truth in that inside voice by comparing it to anything on the outside – answer one simple question: what makes my heart sing?
- it will take many, many iterations of “he/she seemed great”; “this seemed like a great idea at the time”; “I used to love this” to make us realize we are on the precipice of discovering more of our identity from under countless hours of conformity and “this is how things are done” and change is always scary but it is the only way – and the hurt is not proof that we are wrong to change, it is just proof that we are human ]
Crises of the past have taught me so much about myself: that I am lovable, that I can love so very deeply, that I am a good friend and I need good friends and that they are very scarce, that if I let go things will not collapse and even if they did it is ok and that I too have the right to be free – whatever that means for me.
So, what is this crisis here to teach me? As usual, I will find out in retrospect. But judging from the fears I have and the questions I ask myself today, I am probably ready to understand how much I have grown, how much I have learned, the lives I have changed (including mine) and that I am able to do more, right on my own two feet. I will need to get back to myself on that.
It is not linear, this feeling of “going on a great trip”, of excitement and wonder at what is in store for me – there are peaks and valley and sometimes the valleys get so low that I forget about the sun and I only hear the gremlins of worry. But the voice I have chosen to listen to is always speaking to me: “this IS ok, you are now sifting through your life to understand what is most important for you now, what you need to keep and what you need to shed. The future will welcome you into new joys, hardships, laughter and tears and there will be peace again until the next sifting. Because the only thing we can be promised in this lifetime and one which will for certain be delivered is change.”