I’ve always considered myself to be an athlete and adventurer who enjoyed living a very active lifestyle. Am going to talk about life coach. I mean I was only 11 years old when I fell off a tight-rope I made in my back yard (looking back I see “home-made tightrope” wasn’t a great idea) and broke my collar bone. I started playing volleyball in 8th grade, and continued to play through high school, and was a captain on my collegiate volleyball team for 3 years. When I wasn’t playing volleyball I was water skiing, rollerblading, biking, slack-lining, down-hill skiing, rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, or at the gym.
My personal identity was built on these foundational activities. Who was I without them? I had never bothered to take the time to ask myself that question, because I never needed to before. I was living my active life and letting it define me. Suddenly when my disc herniated I couldn’t even put on my own pants, or tie my own shoes, and dreams of thru-hiking the 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail vanished. The pain was there, and I wasn’t only feeling it, it was talking to me. Telling me that I’d never get better. I’d never be active again. My life as I knew it was completely over. I couldn’t beat the pain. It was winning, and it took an undeniable emotional toll.
I had effectively and unknowingly tied my own worth as a person, to the things that I did. Without being able to do anything anymore, I became worthless in my own mind. One day, since I—quite literally—couldn’t run from my feelings, I decided to stop fighting it. I just let myself feel and feel deeply. That’s when I recognized what I was feeling. And it terrified me. I realized I had lost my identity, my outlets, and my self-esteem.
But because I sat with that feeling, recognized it, identified it, named it and saw it clearly…I was able to evaluate it. If you’re brave enough, questions lead to answers. So I asked myself if my worth as a human being was defined by my ability to walk up a geological feature known as a “mountain”. The logical part of my brain screamed “no, you idiot!!” but the critical voice in my head was still saying “well yeah, whose going to think you’re interesting now?”. That’s when I decided that I needed to strip the superficial levels of my identity away. To no longer define myself by what I do, but who I am.
I had plenty of time to think. I had to take time off from work to let my body heal. And I still couldn’t do much of anything. So I would lie down and just think. I discovered that who I am is a genuine, kind, honest, compassionate, empathic, and expressive human being. None of those qualities can ever be taken away from me in the same way my superficial identity was taken away from me because of an injury.
I believe this type of artificial identity is perpetuated in our culture today. That you are no more than a mere collection of your achievements. It can be seen starting at a young age in our school systems. Looking back, I saw it when I was working with the 5th-8th graders as a teacher at Nature’s Classroom. These kids were thrilled they weren’t going to be graded in our classes, because if you don’t get an A, you aren’t good enough. As a teacher at Nature’s Classroom, you received pertinent medical information about the students in your field group (a group of 10-12 children that spend the week with you), and each week we could see countless kids come through our program that had severe anxiety. Children. Children worrying about everything. Unable to just be a kid.
It can be seen in the retired generations as well. These men and women have tied their self-worth to their work. No wonder when they finally get to retire, and they lose the only thing that gave them a sense of purpose, they become depressed because they’re no longer contributing to something they see as meaningful. It’s sad to see happening in these epidemic proportions, because we work our whole lives to finally retire and enjoy some freedom, only to find that life tells us we aren’t enough just being ourselves.
I wish for my own sanity that I didn’t need to experience the physical pain and agony that lead me to these realizations. I wish I could’ve figured out that my active lifestyle didn’t define what I had to offer the world. I wish the whispers of the trees could’ve shared this secret with me while I was dancing along a mountainous ridge-line during the golden hour of the day. But that’s not how it happened. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to choose how we learn our lessons, otherwise many of us would choose less painful ones.
One of the most important steps to finding a lasting happiness is to take time to get to know yourself and what you stand for. To learn that YOU—just as you are right this minute—are enough. Don’t wait until your superficial identity is taken from you, do the work now so that if for any reason that outer identity is ever stripped away, you know your true self enough to keep battling and get through any obstacles that are thrown at you.
The hardest part of all of this is “clearing the cobwebs” so to speak. There are plenty of distraction mechanisms that your brain uses to keep you in the dark. Next time I’ll cover some of the different ways you might not even know your brain has hijacked your self-awareness to keep you in the dark and how to combat them.
Some questions to answer before you adventure off…
- Is there something you DO that if it got taken away from you forever, you would be devastated? (i.e This could be writing, singing, working out, listening to music, traveling, making others laugh, cooking, dating a certain person, your job etc.
- For example…if you love photography and lost your vision due to a freak accident, would you feel as though your identity was taken away?
- Ask yourself (and be honest!!) if any part of your self-worth is connected to this activity?
- Check in with yourself and see if the reason you place some self-worth on this activity is that it helps you control how others perceive you?
- Take a minute and think of at least one thing that you can love about yourself even if you lost your defining activities.
Life coach, life coach, life coach, life coach.