A solution to the question of “Who am I?”
I have been wrestling with that identity question again. I began what I call my “3rd Act” when I took early “retirement” from my corporate job as an internal organization and management consultant. I set up an independent consulting practice and I promised myself I would have more balance in my life. There was no identity challenge…I was still a consultant. I just had my own practice rather than work for another organization.
A few years later, I added “academic” or “educator” to my identity when I began teaching at JFK University in Organizational Psychology. I loved being both a practicing consultant and an educator. But after a few years, I wanted more time to pursue other interests. I decided to “retire” again, this time from both teaching and consulting. It took me a while to come to that decision. I remember thinking if I wasn’t a “consultant” who was I?
This challenge of finding our identity as we move away from our primary profession or discipline or craft, seems to be common among members of the boomer and the traditional generations. Many of us have invested our lives in our work motivated or perhaps even driven by the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards our work brought us. Such an investment and the rewards of recognition, accomplishment, contribution and yes, increased salary tends to reinforce for ourselves and for others, the a definition of “who I am”. When we leave the world of our work at retirement or what we prefer to call The 3rd Act, we don’t know how to label ourselves at cocktail parties or networking events when someone asks, “And what do you do?” It is more than the expectations of those social interactions, though. It has to do with being comfortable with ourselves and how we define ourselves internally.
I have experimented with defining myself since I left consulting and academia. With my business partner, Patricia, I designed and founded The 3rd Act. So I am an “entrepreneur” and a “business woman”. Our commitment is to continue to maintain a balanced life with time for the other interests we each have, so I find that neither of these designations really internally defines who I am. It is like trying on an outfit in the store and realizing that even though it fits and “looks great”, it isn’t me and if I bought it, I probably wouldn’t wear it. So I have continued to wrestle with this identity question.
Recently, I met a new acquaintance who asked me what I “was doing these days”. I answered the question by describing a professional book I just finished, the blog and monthly newsletter I write for The 3rd Act and the historical novel that I have begun writing. He responded by saying “Oh, you are a writer and published author!” Hearing “writer” and “author” landed perfectly in my mind. Yes, of course that is who I am these days (although I know it could change again if or when I no longer write).
But for now, I repeat it to myself and I have tried it out on a few friends. It feels right and it fits.
Do you have a story about your identity? How have you settled the question of “Who Am I?”