“What do you do?” “Tell me about yourself?” When asked these questions, it’s normal to share and define ourselves by what we do and how we spend our time. Many of us define ourselves by our job, our hobbies, or who we are to others like being a wife or mom.
When things are going well, the question “What do you do?” can be easy. Like, when I’m confident in myself and things are going well, I can say “Hey, I’m Lindsey. I’m a full-time traveler, author and photographer, athlete, wife, and mom.”
But when things are shaken up and we lose one of our big identifiers, like losing a job, or a lifestyle, or we have to take care of a family member for an uncertain amount of time- how do we identify ourselves anymore? We start thinking thoughts like, “What am I doing? Who am I?” Those thoughts can cause anxiety and be overwhelming when we’re no longer certain.
In the last five years since my husband Adam and I have started our travel lifestyle, I’ve been through so many seasons of grappling with who I am because my job, our lifestyle, and how I spend my time are continually changing. When I’m feeling uncertain and someone asks me “What do you do?” I either get paralyzed or stammer my way through responding.
Here are ten tips I’ve learned as I’ve worked through finding and reminding myself who I am in each transition. I also asked Nomad Collabers for advice of what they do and have received answers from Emily Mills and Dan McKenzie. I’ll share tips, experiences, and things to try from the three of us to encourage you during this season of change.
10 Tips to Work Through Identity Struggles & Transitions
1. Gift Yourself with Patience & Grace
The transition you’re in may have been your choice or it may have not been your choice. Either way, big things are changing in your life and there’s a lot to navigate through. It’s okay and understandable to have all the feelings you’re going through. You may be feeling lost, hurt, disappointed, confused, angry, sad, and uncertain. Maybe you have moments of feeling thankful, a new freedom, boldness, and excitement for the possibilities of what’s to come. And maybe if you’re like me, every hour has a new feeling and you feel like you’re on a roller coaster of emotions.
Try this: Look in the mirror and tell yourself, “It’s fair that I feel ______, ______, and _______ because I’m going through ______.”
Again, it’s understandable that you feel the way you do. Be patient with yourself as you work through all of your feelings and get used to this big change.
2. Acknowledge & Confront Your Feelings
It’s good to acknowledge and confront your feelings and take the time to feel and work through each of your emotions.
Figure out how you acknowledge and work through your emotions best. Is it journaling and writing down what you’re feeling? Is it video journaling by talking in front of your phone to yourself? Is it recording your voice on your phone? Or, is it better for you to find a good friend or family member that you can talk to and who you can trust. Or, maybe it’s someone in Nomad Collab you can reach out to that you know who’s been through the same situation.
Try this: Here are three questions to ask yourself and write out or talk out to work through your feelings:
- What am I feeling right now?
- Why am I feeling this way?
- What can I do about this feeling?
3. Remind Yourself Your Value Doesn’t Solely Come from What You Do
You are not solely defined as a person by what you do. You are a combination of so many wonderful things! Your character, your values, your humor, what you like, what you don’t like, how you spend your time, and who you spend your time with all makes you who you are.
Try this: To reconnect with who you are, here are six questions to ask yourself and close family and friends to remind yourself who you are, what’s important to you, and what you like:
- Write down 5 things you like.
- Write down 5 words to describe yourself.
- Write down 5 strengths you have.
- List out 5 values that are important to you.
- Ask 3 close friends or family members to describe you in 3 words.
- Ask 3 close friends or family members to share 3 strengths you have.
4. Take Personality Tests
Again, your value is not solely in your job or in how you spend your time. To get even more ammo and encouragement, take some personality tests like Strengths Finders and the Enneagram.
Each time I go through a transition, I re-take the Strengths Finders assessment. For me, it reminds me that my job, or lifestyle is not what makes me, me. I have all these strengths that I can use in any job or season of life to my advantage.
And, if I’m looking for a new job or opportunity, I’ve learned taking Strengths Finders helps me put into words what I’m naturally good at and my strengths can be used in many different roles. I’ve even used my strength titles and the phrases describing my strengths on cover letters and in interviews. Doing this impresses potential employers or partners.
Try this: Take the Strengths Finders test.
5. Remind Yourself Life is an Adventure & Growth and Change are Good
Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings and worked through them, you may have some clarity why you feel the way you feel. Try taking time to look at the bright side of your changes. Life has many seasons of highs and lows, and we learn a lot from our lows. Life would be boring if we continued to stay the same and stagnant doing the same thing. Change is scary, but can be for the better.
Try this: Write out 5 things you’re thankful for and hopeful will come of this big change in your life.
6. Encourage Yourself That You Can Work Through This Season
You’ve had seasons of big change in the past that you’ve successfully navigated. Here’s a way to encourage yourself that you’ve been through a tough season in the past and you can come out on the other side again.
Try this: Here are two questions to ask yourself to remind yourself the courage and perseverance you’ve had in the past during big changes in life:
1.Write Down Past Transition Seasons
Write down three big changes you’ve had in life that were scary but turned out well and you’re happy they happened.
2. Acknowledge What Worked Well in Those Seasons
Write down three things you did to successfully cope with the change during each season you listed above that made the transition better or easier. Those are your success habits. How can you use those same habits again during your change now?
7. Reconnect with Your Dreams
This is the perfect opportunity to reflect on your dreams and what you want.
Dan McKenzie shares: “I guess the thing that helps me the most is to continually touch base with what my dreams are and what I want. I do this through journaling, reading, working out and meditating – in other words, it helps to spend time focusing on where you are in the moment and where you want to go… if you can find peace and get excited about that, then I think that it doesn’t matter as much “what you do.”
Try this: Take 10 minutes and write down your dream for your life. What do you want in life?
8. Write a Personal Mission Statement
Take the time to write a personal mission statement that you can always turn to in each season of life.
Emily Mills shares:
“Oh man. I’m always in one identity crisis or another when I’m communicating with people! 🙂 I’ve been fortunate that my career is consistent/similar, so I can always tell people what I do as a backup. Where I’m from used to be huge: “I’m from Colorado.” It’s still important to me, but I haven’t lived there in 10 years so I don’t say it very often unless asked directly. I think it’s always helpful to have a personal mission statement so no matter where you are located or what you’re doing for work, it’s probably aligned with your personal mission statement. A good template is “I help (or other verb) (X) with/by (Y) so that (Z).” It works for work stuff too!
- I help financially illiterate people learn to budget so they can get out of debt.
- I help small businesses by designing their websites so they can focus on their customers instead of learning something new.
- I’m passionate about sharing the value of travel with others so they can become open-minded, find their passion, and pursue their dreams.
- My mission is to love everyone around me by serving and listening so that they can feel seen and known.”
Try this: Take five minutes and write out a personal mission statement.
9. Come Up with a Statement of What You’ll Tell People When They Ask
Sometimes, during a transition period, we’re afraid of not having anything to say when people ask “What do you do?”
While I was working with my Life Coach, Mollie Kinsman, we realized this is what I was most afraid of. How would I define myself to others? Mollie encouraged me to come up with a plan of what I would say if someone asked me, “What do you do?” By having a plan of what I’d say eased my anxiety during social situations.
Emily Mills suggests: “Sharing about your identity can be tough. Do you share what you think they want to know or will find interesting, or do you share who you are and let the cards fall where they may? I think it depends on the situation. For me personally, I find that telling people what I do is only so interesting. If I say “I really care about X, so everything I do kind of centers around that,” is a lot more intriguing and lends itself to better conversations. Example: “I’m a travel blogger.” vs “I really care about showing people the benefits of living a more free lifestyle, and a lot of what I do centers around that. I blog about travel, I’m a consultant, and I lead trips in National Parks. Passion > Actions.”
Try this: Come up with a one or two sentence response so you’re prepared with what to say if someone asks you, “What do you do?”
10. Focus on What You’re Curious About
As you explore what you like and don’t like and are looking for a direction forward, focus on what you’re curious about. Pursuing what you’re curious about provides new learning and new energy and can guide you in a new direction. When we’re curious about something, we either keep digging further and further because we’re excited and intrigued about the topic, or we stop because we’ve reached our maximum interest level. If you reach the end of a curiosity, find a new one and pursue learning more.
Try this: First, write down 3 things you’re curious about. Next, write down your first step to engage in this curiosity you have. Lastly, write a date down for each first step that you want to take that step by.
Working through a big change in life takes time. Be patient with yourself and use the tips above to find encouragement and work your way through adjusting to the change.
Please share! What other tips and advice do you have for the community that’s worked well for you in learning who you are during seasons of transition and change?