We humans tend to get a lot of our identity from our roles, responsibilities, and positions. That’s normal and understandable but potentially problematic too.
For over forty years, I have been called pastor. I have worn a few other hats during those decades, but “Pastor Kurt” is something I have heard thousands of times.
Now, at sixty-five, I am transitioning to a new role as a coach, consultant, and event speaker. And it’s weird because pastor has been more than a title or position for me; it’s been a huge part of my identity.
So, I am facing something I haven’t encountered before, an identity crisis of sorts.
Here’s Webster’s definition of an identity crisis: a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.
Sounds about right.
Throughout my years as a leader, I’ve noticed the most common causes of an identity crises are:
- A career change (including retirement)
- Significant relationship changes
- A severe or traumatic event
- Major health issues
- Loss of a loved one or close friend
You can probably think of some other significant events that might lead to an emotional dilemma, but those are the easier ones to recognize.
One of the things I’ve realized is how my identity provides purpose and a sense of belonging. As a pastor, I have belonged to a community where I knew my place and understood my purpose.
My identity also made my choices more manageable and helped me to structure my world. When you know your role and responsibilities, it often defines your options (i.e., what you do or don’t do).
Here are a few of the emotions and issues I’m wrestling with lately:
- Questions regarding my value moving forward
- Feeling a bit confused about what to prioritize
- Emotional volatility
- Difficulty sleeping
- Stress eating
Okay, that’s the challenge (i.e., a nicer way to say the problem).
What’s the solution?
1. Remember who you are and what you do are closely connected, but you are not what you do. You are a unique and marvelous human created in the image of God, and you matter. Now and always. If today or tomorrow you lost everything and everyone, you are still a person of immeasurable value. Please don’t forget that reality.
2. Don’t stuff your feelings, but don’t be led by your emotions, either. You can feel scared, lost, numb, rattled, and uncertain, but stop and remember point one when your emotions take you to a dark place. You matter.
3. Find a way to center your soul. Pray. Meditate. Journal. Write a book (or a blog). Talk to a trusted friend or coach. Expression brings clarity.
4. Discover and pursue a new purpose with passion. What new opportunity or new relationship is waiting for you? What can you do to explore new possibilities? Sure, it’s tough to face the unexpected and unknown. However, as someone once said, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days so far. So, choose to be optimistic about your future.
As a rule, most would say going through an identity crisis is horrible. But maybe, just maybe, it might lead to an improved and even more fulfilling future.
At the very least, you aren’t stuck in a rut, and perhaps a new and better you is just around the corner.
“There are far better things ahead
than any we leave behind.”