I was recently asked what my primary reasons were for not finding another job after being laid off and my impetus for a journey in entrepreneurship. There were many reasons, the primary being wanting to do work that was better aligned with my values and the human I wanted to be and that deserves its own essay but there were many secondary and tertiary reasons for the change.
A big one among them was that I wanted to discover the person I’d be without the labels of being an employee, the benefits of a stable paycheck, and the sense of identity a job title provides. A part of me was really inspired (and scared) to see who I’d become when all of these layers were stripped off of my life.
The day after I was let go, the kids had a dentist appointment and on the form, I was asked my job title and I didn’t know what to say. Do I say former product marketing manager or take out the word former after all I was still getting severance. But did that mean, my paycheck determined my title, a part of me didn’t want to buy into that. Should I say mom but that didn’t feel right either, being a mom is who I am and an incredible part of my identity but I couldn’t call that my “job title”. A part of me wondered what significance a job title had with the dentist’s appointment but I let that be. I wanted to write Leadership Coach but my inner critic resisted and said I didn’t even have a single client at that moment so it wouldn’t be right to claim that as my professional identity. Ultimately, I didn’t let my inner critic run the show and I embraced my identity as a coach even though it felt too soon, too quick, and too sudden as I was still processing my loss of identity as an employee. Even though this form was reasonably inconsequential, it was a reminder of my own attachment and sense of meaning that comes with the labels we put on ourselves – mother, wife, entrepreneur, leadership coach, daughter, sister, friend, writer, facilitator, and I could go on…
My intention behind the exploration both in the dentist’s office and the many small and big moments before and after that form-filling exercise isn’t to get rid of the labels – I want them, they bring so much joy and meaning into my world but to learn to not measure my worth with these labels and to hold them a bit more softly and more loosely. I don’t want to imagine my life without my roles as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. Yet, the reality is that there are shifts even in those roles with every season. I know there will be a day when my identity as a mother will be different with kids out of the house (assuming that happens and we are both alive to witness it) than it is today as they snuggle into bed with me every night.
Bit by bit, day by day I am learning to detach from my past professional identity and embrace my new one all while holding them both gently. I am learning to see the fluidity of it all and trusting the impermanence of the many roles we play. I remind myself that I may choose or life may make the choice for me to go back to a full-time corporate role someday. The work I am doing may well hold me for the next several decades and the reality is that I know very little about where life will take me. I can dream, plan and put structures in place, and then I have to detach from the outcomes. I am learning to both do my work with deep love and care and then surrender and trust where my work and life take me.
I am also learning to deeply love myself even with a much smaller paycheck. I am both unlearning the many stories I had internalized around worth and money and relearning how to have a new relationship with money and worthiness. For the last 15 years, my husband and I were both contributing financially to our family in equal ways and I am learning to value my contributions even when the money I bring home is lower. I am again learning to see the transient nature and seasonality of life through it all and trusting that the early months and years of my small business are not an indication of my ability to contribute financially to my family permanently.
I am learning to find much beauty and power in the discomfort of the transitions, in the seasons of uncertainty, of not knowing and trusting the process of who I am becoming through it all. In a culture where we value the destination more than the journey, I am learning to have faith in myself when I can’t see what’s next on my path, when I don’t have the right gear for the weather on my hike (metaphorically) and when I am torn between two seemingly good choices.
And if I am making it sound like it’s all easy and simple and I have it all figured it out, it’s far from it and there are many moments when I am lost, confused, or when the voice of fear gets loud. But there is ease, many moments of them on my journey and that was what I wanted to access in this chapter of my life – ease amidst the chaos, uncertainty, and disappointment. The kind of ease that doesn’t come from external validation but a deeper relationship with and tender love for myself.
And this ease and self-belief didn’t come as easily or naturally for me and there are so many humans who have been my rock, my source of courage, and providers of warmth, especially in moments when I couldn’t access or trust that love in myself. And then there was deep work, especially in the years leading up to this transition to make the jump a bit more easeful. And my incredibly skilled and compassionate coaches – Beth and Jac who so graciously held space and brought me back to my own light and power in their own unique and beautiful ways.
As this year is coming to an end, here are my journaling questions for you
- What label are you most attached to? What would it mean to hold it a bit more lightly?
- What is a new label that you are curious to explore in an upcoming chapter of your life?
Pic Credit: Ravi Palwe
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