I was one person in a room of 30 adults and children and a little boy said, “Excuse me, Mrs. Michael’s Mommy?” I knew, as did everyone in the room, that the little boy was talking to me. Oh God! What happened! I wasn’t Lorraine anymore. Somehow I had become “the wife of my son’s father.” Yikes!
It took a few days for it to sink in, but when it did I was in a fluster for a long time. Sure I loved being Michael’s mommy, as I loved being Jack’s mommy and Ralph’s wife; the problem was that I also loved being Lorraine and I didn’t know how to be them all at the same time.
Part of the evolutionary process for humans is identifying oneself as something different than the things we have or the things we do. It all comes down to the process of expanding our awareness and perspective each time we encounter a change in our world. For example, when you started kindergarten your world expanded from mom, dad, brother, grandparents, etc. to include teachers, peers, rules, schedules, and a whole new building away from home. Your perspective had to expand in order for you to manage and evolve. Every time the world changes, your perspective and awareness need to change so that you can navigate and make sense of who you are and how you fit in. We may struggle for a while, and then, hopefully, our new perspective and awareness allows us to deal with the change. Sometimes we get stuck and need a little help because, try as we might, we just can’t find the new perspective that ends the struggle and allows everything to make sense again.
“Roles are magnets for rules.” Thomas Leonard
My re-identity process started with letting go of “job” titles; shifting my thinking from “being” something, (using “I am” to identify myself) to “having” something (using “I have” to describe what I do.) Now, I have a husband I love vs. I am a wife. I have two sons that I love vs. I am a mom. I have great jobs coaching, teaching, and writing books vs. I am a coach, teacher, and writer.
Ah! That’s more like it. Now I have the freedom to “be” myself as I “do” all the things that I love. I am no longer my roles; I have expanded my perspective and it all makes sense again.
You can’t cash a title
For me, one particular sticky part of this process was paying myself. We’re programmed to seek approval and rewards from other people. It starts with our parents (praise, love, and goodies) then teachers (praise and good report cards) then coaches (praise and team placement) and bosses (praise, promotions, money.) We find personal significance in the praise and self-worth in the paycheck—external rewards. When I quit my corporate job to stay home with my children, suddenly no one was praising me and no one was paying me. I hadn’t realized how much my identity and sense of self-worth were tied to external rewards. I knew I was doing something of greater significance—and raising children is a whole lot harder than any job I’d ever had—but I didn’t have the ability to measure it, quantify it, feel recognized for it, or to reward myself for it. Heck, I couldn’t even articulate what “it” really was.
Internal rewards is another huge topic for a future blog post—or two! For now, if you’re struggling to make sense of a change in your world, whether the change is due to children, marriage, career, loss, etc., your struggle will end the moment you expand your perspective enough to see that it’s You doing or having something new vs. You trying to be something you used to be in a new place.
Related Tip of the Week: Expectation Guilt