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A New Year and the Evolving Identity

I hope you’ve had a lovely festive season and great start to 2017 wherever in the world you are!

As you might already know, I’m an expat of many years and my family happen to live on the other side of the world, which can make the holidays a bit tougher sometimes. But this time one of my brothers came to visit and we’ve had the most amazing and relaxing time together. 

We’ve had a truly amazing and relaxing time together and wise from my many previous experiences of hosting visitors from back home, we did not have heaps of things planned in advance. What we did make time for (in between beach, beers, walks and relaxing) were great chats about life and family.

The thing that always strikes me is how things have changed in our identities, yet somehow remained the same in some fundamental ways. I’m still the big sister and he’s still my little brother. We express it very differently now compared to when we were kids or even teenagers, but the core identities remain as well as our individual personality traits. I think this is true for most of us, both in our personal and professional relationships. 

I always say to my clients that it’s very normal to have slightly different roles in the different areas of our lives, but if those roles vary too much you might feel torn, low on energy and like your core identity is challenged. So what does this actually mean and how does it hold us back? 

  1. If you have a certain role in your immediate family (the joker, the organiser, the smart one, the one who is always late or any other roles you can think of) this tends to be a label that sticks. Most people will fall into the old role when they visit family or have family come and visit them, but this can be challenging if…
  2. … your role in your intimate relationship is very different from the identity or role you have with your family. So often I hear people surprised when they meet their partners family the first time and afterwards reflect that “he/she is NEVER like that with me…”. You family might also feel that you are different because you’ve brought your partner and don’t be surprised if this annoys a few people as they might feel that it’s different or challenging for them. 
  3. Your role in professional life can then be different again as many people prefer to keep very different identities for work and personal life. I’ve always found this fascinating (even if I do it myself from time to time), because what we’re really doing is not ‘being professional’ but rather hiding who we really are. I trust you’d agree that we can be professional and grown up without completely masking who we really are. 
  4. Roles in your friendship circle (and most of us have more than one of these) then adds additional complexity to the roles and identities we hold across life. Not to mention when there is a big occasion (wedding or similar) when all the different circles meet and we sometimes worry if they’ll all get along.
  5. The biggest challenge I see is when people see these roles as permanent, rather than something that changes organically with time, distance and age as well as something we choose to uphold or change. Because we actually don’t need to keep ‘playing a role‘ that we don’t like!

The fundamental thing I’ve always strived for is alignment in the roles we choose in life. Alignment does not mean we are always the same with every person or setting, but it means that our core identity is strong and present across all our different roles in life

Some say that people never change, but I actually believe we change all the time. Rather than seeing this as a change away from who we once were, it’s about adding new layers and levels to make us even more of the person we’ve grown into. 

I’ve talked about identity and growth before in this video around how you don’t need to change who you are, but rather become more of yourself. Feel free to check it out if this is something you’d like to learn more about!