Embracing the Discomfort in Personal Transformation
When I left my 20-year career in education to start my own coaching practice, I was thrilled by the opportunity to focus on the work I love most and to embark on a new adventure. But then something unexpected happened. For months I felt lost. I couldn’t stop introducing myself as a coach WITH a background in education. It was as if I didn’t know who I was without the clearly defined roles I once held. My identity had been so intertwined with my work that even an adventure I was excited for felt like I was cutting off a huge chunk of myself. It was a disorienting feeling because for years, I hated being defined by my title. When people would ask “What do you do?” I’d want to follow my response with “But I’m more than that.”
In my last post I touched on how the transformation we undergo in the middle of our lives can feel like a crisis because we are letting pieces of ourselves go. After decades of hard work to achieve goals, gain respect and earn promotions, I suddenly realized how little those things said about who I am at the core.
I’ve coached many people who say “I’m more than…” (my job, my race, a mother, my political affiliation). As easily as people can list all the things they are more than, actively choosing how we want to be defined is often an uncomfortable process. I was startled by how much easier it was for me to complete that phrase than it was for me to answer “Who am I?” I’d spent years thinking of all the things that I was more than, and almost no time thinking about who I truly was. So much of my identity was wrapped up in the expectations that other people had for me because of the roles I played. Often those expectations, even the positive ones that were mostly accurate, felt limiting and like I was being put into a box.
Once I understood what was at the root of my disorientation, I figured out what to do. I started by identifying what brought me to life. Reading, dancing, having deep conversations with people, sunshine, laughing and playing with loved ones – these are things that make me feel alive. Getting clarity around what brought me the most joy helped me to decide what parts of myself I wanted to share with the world.
Next, I looked at the silver lining in all those boxes – the categories that people quickly identify when they think of me. I went beyond the surface of “It was a privilege to serve as…” or “I worked hard to earn…” and dug into how those experiences shaped me. I’m proud that I had the opportunity to teach, to lead, and to work with other people who want to make the world a better place.
Then, I acknowledged all the areas where a silver lining was hard to find and worked on healing. For instance, the pressures and responsibilities of my former career left me feeling like I was a machine. It felt like I could never let my guard down and show my human side. Healing, for me, started with letting go of what others thought of me. It also meant making the drastic decision to change careers and follow my heart.
I doubt I will ever find a succinct way to summarize who I am. In fact, I believe that life is one long journey of change and self-discovery. The more I embrace that belief, the more I can enjoy each step of my own transformation.