Do you ever stammer when someone asks you what you do? You may give the short answer… naming the J.O.B. that puts food on the table. If you’re lucky enough, it’s also a job that you love.
But is that the truest definition of you?
I read an article by Lyn Slater, a gray-haired, dynamic woman who became a model in her 60’s. She calls herself the “accidental icon.” She stumbled upon modeling late in life because she was a blogger who loved clothes, but as a career, she was a professor.
She struggles with the media because they now call her an “influencer,” but when asked, she retains her identity declaring herself an “academic” or even as a “public intellectual.”
Neither definition is the whole story and she says, “Until this past September, I was a professor,” then after that, it’s more of a meandering account of what I do every day. This might comprise of any or all of my following project-related identities: writer, editor, model, art director, salesperson, researcher, activist, photographer, stylist, and even I might be bold enough to claim, an artist.”
More than ever we are faced with a great personal identity crisis. We can’t really claim an identity because we wear so many different labels.
Many of us now hold more than one job… The one that is our main source of income, and a side hustle we do for love and extra money.
We’re also different on the internet. What we choose to share on social media may be entirely different than who we are in the physical presence.
But what if we don’t use labels at all and look at our character strengths?
Labels come and go, but our inner strengths and talents make the fuel that keeps us operating.
I once thought I knew exactly who I was
I was a wife and mother. Concise labels, that took a tremendous amount of focus and commitment.
My job was my family and helping my husband launch and sustain a career as a writer and producer in the entertainment industry. We had 26 years together, navigating the successes and failures in the business. It was a roller coaster life, never knowing from one television show or movie to the next, whether the job would continue or a new one had to come from yet another idea for a great script.
Creativity was the backbone that kept our family operating year after year.
But it changed when I suddenly became a single mom to our three children. My children’s father died at just 54, and I was forced to begin searching for a career. In one day, I transitioned to becoming the sole support of my family.
I never considered a backup plan and couldn’t put a thing on my resume that meant anything to the business world.
My list went something like this: professional full-time mother, nurturer, nutritional provider, housekeeper, and home organizer, tear wiper, activity director, schoolroom mom, driver, story reader, and most of all, a resource for love, joy, and creativity.
In the partnership with my husband, I was his editor, his co-story developer, actor and dialogue assistant for his scripts, bookkeeper, director of entertaining business relationships, and most of all, his life partner and lover.
New chapter, new identity
With his loss, I entered a new chapter of my life story. I was forced to create a new career, a new life, a new identity.
I chose real estate. A friend suggested it and thought I might be good at it. He said I had the attributes that could make it work. It was an abrupt change from my life in the entertainment business and scared me to death. I was no longer the “me” I thought I was.
Just me and my identity crisis
I moved our family out of Los Angeles to a sleepy little town halfway between LA and San Diego. I longed for a quieter life, one where my children felt emotionally safe, and I could find sanctuary for my identity crisis to work itself out.
There was no question I wouldn’t rise up and do whatever was necessary to keep our family intact. I knew one of my character traits was the ability to be resilient. It was a trait I developed as a military child and we moved from one state to the next every year. Each move meant I had to leave old friends behind, start a new school, make new friends, and know it would only last a year.
Labels come and go, but our character is at the core of who we really are
And that’s when it hit me. Labels are not dependable, nor are they forever. What carried me through the toughest times of my life was resilience. It’s the ability I developed to bounce forward into my new life.
Like a butterfly, I would shed the old me and become adaptable to wherever I landed for the next chapter.
Resilience was the through-line in my life. It was more than just the death of my husband, it was overcoming so much more, like the birth of my daughter with a birth defect, the tragic loss of our 16-year-old son, and the tailspin of a marriage that struggled to stay alive in spite of such a tragedy.
And it continued as I navigated being a single mom and woman entrepreneur supporting my family.
I had no choice but to succeed. And I did.
When one chapter ends, another is waiting in the wings
Many women have shared with me the trauma of being in one chapter of life, and suddenly being thrown into a new, unexpected chapter. I tell them this, “You will survive. You have an inner strength that will carry you through, it’s called resilience.”
I’ve now reached the time in my life where I’ve achieved success, I actually have a resumé I’m proud of. I’ve sustained a wonderful career in real estate and have added writing and consulting to my work life. My children have left my nest, and I have fallen in love again, beginning a new life.
This is the time I’m learning I am so much more than my labels.
Now, I want to be known for my character strengths. That’s where I reach the inner calm of knowing who I really am. Knowing my strengths pulls me away from focusing on the many upheavals of my life, and my character strengths assure me that I can handle anything that comes my way.
I learned to take those life-altering chapters and turn them into a meaningful portfolio… my life story.
“By directing our attention from what’s wrong to what’s strong, we discover overlooked potential in ourselves…” — Neal H. Mayerson, Ph.D., VIA Institute of Character.
It may be the perfect time for you to assess your own character strengths. If you don’t know your strengths, take this simple test offered by the Via Institute on Character. It was so revelatory for me!
Here are some character strengths to consider:
- Love and kindness
Every day you get a fresh chance at navigating life with the strengths you already have
When you discover the backpack of strengths you carry with you at all times, it will give you a level of peace knowing you can handle whatever comes your way.
And… remember to bless your life story for the gifts it reveals. You never would have known how strong you really are if you had not had so many life challenges.
It’s the sum total of those experiences that have brought your strengths to the surface and given you a very full life.
Love yourself for that.