Who are you? If I ask you this question, you’ll likely tell me, or at least include, what you do for a living. You might also include your age, possibly share where you live, and maybe add some past accomplishments. Our identity is shaped by what we do, where we live, who we spend time with, and a lifetime of experiences. How we define ourselves is extremely complex, and can often be the key factor between success or failure, happiness or despair, and a life fully lived or one filled with limited possibilities. Answering that question… who are you?… is a tricky thing.
One of the keys to a lifetime of true success is to avoid letting what you do become who you are. And the reason is simple. What you can do now is likely something you will not be doing, or cannot do, later. And if you rest your entire identity on something, and that something ends or goes away, you’ll become lost, empty, and feel like the best is behind you.
Easy examples of this are ex-high-level executives, ex-professional athletes, or ex-famous actors. When you’ve spent so much time and invested so much effort into a particular endeavor, it’s hard for that not to be who you are. A much more common example is mothers. If and when a woman exits the workforce to embark on having and raising kids, it usually takes everything they’ve got. Their whole world revolves around those kids. They put their heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into making sure every need of those children is met. As they should. It’s what mothers do.
The problem is that when they wrap their entire existence around the kids, and define themselves solely as being a mom, eventually the kids leave. And when the kids leave, that foundation upon which a mother’s whole existence rests suddenly shifts and crumbles. And if that woman’s whole identity was “mother,” then they feel lost, insignificant, are left clinging to memories of the past, and are paralyzed, unable to enjoy their future.
Why is it so important that we not get sucked into the trap of being so heavily defined by what we do? Because what we currently are doing, what we can do now, we likely will not be doing (or won’t be able to do) down the road. And if that is all we are, and it’s who we tell ourselves and others that we are, then we’re left dwelling on the past, telling old war stories, and getting stuck in the past.
So, what’s the solution? While I can’t pretend to have the answers (as I regularly bring up stories of my glory days as a professional waterskier), I have given more thought to it lately. First, whatever you do, do it well, and go all in. I believe it is important that if you are going to do something, do it well. Immerse yourself. But don’t let that be the only thing, or the last thing you immerse yourself in. There is nothing wrong with being a full-time, all-in, everything’s about the kids, kind of mother. Despite the world’s odd lack of appreciation for this, I don’t think the words “I’m just a stay-at-home mom” should ever be uttered. If that’s what you are doing… do that! But just make sure you look ahead, plan ahead, and prepare to shift gears once they leave the nest.
If you are the CEO of a large company, hold several degrees from a prestigious university, are an avid golfer, or have a strong knack for making crafts, keep these talents, successes, and accolades as part of your identity, just not your sole identity. Do those things, do them well, and enjoy doing them, just don’t believe that those things are who you are.
Second, spend more time fantasizing about the future and less time glorifying the past. Enjoy fond memories, but don’t cling to them as all you have. Get excited about creating new ones. A great question to ask is what’s next? That was great, but what’s next will be even better. That was something I did, but watch what I can do now.
We have to be very careful not to become what we do. We have to tread carefully so that the things we enjoy or are good at don’t define us. And we have to continuously strive for what’s next. Regardless of whether your past was filled with success and greatness, or shattered dreams and despair, that was then, and this is now. That was you then, this is you now. Choose not to be limited by how you have always defined yourself (or how others have defined you). Instead, realize that your true definition is that you are a human being, living in extraordinary times, full of amazing potential, and can do anything you want. What’s next?