The Coach Is In

Loss – What happens when we lose…

My last column on leadership examined leaders and loss.  Out of that publication I received a question, “What do we do with leaders who have lost their identity?”  The question intrigued me, because it wasn’t at all what I thought I would write in Part II on loss.  Yet, at its center, was an important question, whether we talk about leaders losing their identities or anyone else losing their identity.

In ‘nosing around’ on this topic, I discovered this definition for “identity” –  Identity is a grouping of attributes, qualities and values that define how we view ourselves, and perhaps how we think other people see us.

One psychologist described loss of identity this way:

“When we lose our identity and sense of self, we are likely to seek our sense of self-worth from others. It suddenly becomes very important how others view us, as our sense of value and self-worth, our feelings of confidence, are dependent on external factors such as our physical appearance, success, status, money, and even fame. As a result, we seek reassurance and praise from others to feel OK about ourselves – but in reality, our emotional well-being depends on how we feel about ourselves.”

At the root of our identity is the key to the question, “Who am I?”  My sense is that most people ask that question at some point in their lives.  As the psychologist alluded to, some of us define ourselves by what we have, some by what we do, others by what others think and say about us.  When we identify our self by things that are external to us, our sense of self becomes dependent on those external factors.   It is never enough.

In my late twenties, I identified a lot of who I was by my job.  Consequently, when I lost my job I had a crisis of self.  I realized that it was not just about my job, but the fact that many of my actions were tied to trying to impress others, or my desire for external recognition.  I was looking externally for my validation.  I realized, with some help, that where I needed to begin was with the relationship I had with myself.   Did I like and respect myself?  How was I caring for myself?  Often, I can tell the relationship others have with themselves by how they care for themselves in their four centers of energy (Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally, and Spiritually– P.I.E.S.).

If I was honest with myself, I would say the journey to establishing my identity was about eight years.  It was full of small choices that reinforced me, respected me, and took care of me; not to the exclusion of others, but to reinforce my space and value in the world.  Along the way, I learned how difficult it was to break old habits.

Of all of the losses we talked about in my previous column, the loss of identity may be the most powerful and tragic.  Our identity is the rudder by which we guide ourselves through life.  When we have a strong sense of ourselves, what we believe in, what we are here to do, the path through the myriad of choices is much clearer.  If we attempt to live life without that rudder, we end up meandering through life, without purpose and without the ability to be truly happy.  It affects our ability to be in relationship, make good choices for ourselves and others, and, if we choose to be in leadership, it will affect our ability to excel in our role.

This is why, when I work with emerging leaders, I start with the ‘soul’ work to help them establish their identity.  This is never easy work, but it is often transformative work if the person is open to finding out ‘who they are’ and ‘why they are here.’  That journey leads them to their authentic self.  I don’t have to ‘be’ anyone.  I can be myself; my definition of who my true self is.

There is a preciousness in our identity, because it is uniquely us.  It is worth fighting for because our identity is our unique value proposition to the world.  William James once said, “Live your life as if it will make a difference.  For it will.”

“Do you like who you are becoming?”  Is there a journey you need to take to find your more authentic self?”

To a better you…