So, this week’s mid-run musing has involved a lot of thinking about identity, and specifically the way in which we see ourselves is shaped and molded by what we do. It’s pretty clear that it has a huge impact. You can see that in the words we choose. When someone asks us what we do for a living, we’ll often reply with “I’m a soldier”, “I’m a writer”, “I’m a coach” and so on. It becomes a key part of who we believe we are.
There are some real upsides to that. When I started working as a coach, it took a while before I felt that I could really define myself as “a coach”. I’d dance around the identity words, and say something along the lines of “I help business owners”. Describing myself as “a coach” required a mindset shift. That mindset shift helped me to recognise the values and principles that I was bringing to my work and helped to integrate honesty and courage and living my values, which have always been so important in my personal life, into my coaching practice.
So, having what I do, be such a significant part of who I am, has helped to give me a sense of congruence; a feeling that I am properly aligned with my values. It also helps me to bring passion to my work. I don’t just coach people. I am a coach. This is what I do. It’s my purpose. My mission. And that brings with it a sense of energy and enthusiasm.
For me, having coaching as a part of my identity also brings with it a lot of humility. I’m a coach. It’s a part of who I am and how I interact with the world. So I want to learn everything I can to make sure I’m a damn good one.
Now, I’m privileged enough to have previously been a part of our armed forces, which is pretty much renowned for helping you to form a strong sense of identity connected with your job. I can still say to myself “I’m a soldier”, and recognise everything that that means for me. It says that I’m honourable. That I’m resourceful. That I don’t give up.
One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about identity, and particularly my time in the military, is that I know several people whose businesses are just not viable in the current COVID situation. Some have had to put their businesses on hold. Others have closed them completely. Most people have had to make at least some adjustments to how they work.
Making a big career change can be a huge jolt, as anyone who has left the armed forces will tell you. When I left the service, I had the luxury of being able to plan ahead and to make my own decisions in my own time and my own way. I’ll be honest, it was still tough at times, as I adjusted to the change in my identity.
So here’s the ‘glass half empty’ part of having your identity closely linked with your career. Change can become really, really tough, especially if you don’t see it coming.
The people who have dealt best with these kinds of identity shifts during the pandemic, in my opinion, are those who had already taken the time to really understand their values and who were already living them in every aspect of their lives. For them, their work was already an expression of their identity, rather than the source of it. They’re the people who have managed to shift into a related field or found other skills that related to their core values.
The more I think about it, the more interconnected all these aspects become. Honesty, courage, a life of service, the way we choose to serve others, our own identities, the people we choose to surround ourselves with.
And the more I think about that, the more comfortable that thought becomes.