For a third week running, I continue my conversation on identity, a topic foremost on my mind since my pilgrimage back to my youth in the form of a 40th high school reunion.
As I reflect on what identity has meant to me, I am struck by the dated research surrounding this topic. In 1970, Erik Erikson coined the term identity crisis as portraying one of the most significant developmental conflicts we as humans are required to master. He assured us this crisis occurs in our adolescence and is the journey that bridges us into adulthood. Erikson claimed a successful transition through the crisis and confusion leading from adolescence to adulthood culminates in fidelity as defined by sincerity, genuineness, and service in relation to others. However, an unresolved identity crisis at this stage leaves us striving to find ourselves, confused and potentially choosing a negative identity rather than living with none at all.
I believe our sense of a distinct identity begins in adolescence but does not end there. This first “kick at the proverbial identity cat” provides the confidence and certainty we need to step into the many challenges awaiting us in adulthood. Here, over the next two decades (teen to 40), we continue to shape and mould ourselves based on our choices and actions. Given the speed of change in today’s New Normal, it may also be the last time we have the luxury of 20 years to grow and develop our identity and capacity.
As we approach 40 years of age, we confront our second identity crisis called mid-life. For those of you yet to encounter this stage, my first awareness occurred when I was 37 with the emergence of a visceral sensation in my body communicating that change was both coming and necessary. It is a time of review and reflection — exactly what I did by asking myself the question, “Can I do what I am doing today for the rest of my life?” Because my work in the world (an organizational design consultant using socio-technical systems theory and principles) reflected my values of harmony, affection and pleasure, I was surprised when deep from within me echoed “No!” Thus began the search for a new identity leading me to reclaim joy and to reinvent myself around a deeper understanding of my true values of peace, love and joy.
This journey to authenticity (understanding core essence) although spanning 20 years led me through the experience of not one but several identities — learner (student & scholar), truth teller (poet & writer), mystic (yogi & meditator), transformer. As my Transformer identity emerges and grows during this time of global confusion and uncertainty (i.e., identity crisis), I recall the beginning signals of each identity change from my past.
The physical evidence was obvious. No longer did I need to physically move from one city to another. Instead my physical surroundings and self began to reflect the evolving inner change. More specifically, the changes in my hairstyle and daily attire would result in a purging of clothing. The wall colours and furnishings in my home were remodeled. And most recently, I put the finishing touches on a complete office renovation — resulting in a tremendous paper purge.
Releasing attachments to the old identity signals our readiness to the Universe to fully step into our new shoes. Although my limited perception restricts the vision for this new identity, the Universe does not share this human dilemma and can now offer up the full buffet of potential from which I can choose. As implied in my poem below, there is no need for a crisis of faith. Reconstruction is a constant human theme.
So many faces put forward.
Who will I be this time?
The warrior of old battlefields retired
shield and sword.
Joining him, the seductress,
once tantalizing and mysterious,
now transparent in her play.
The heady scholar, no longer seeking
intensity, followed suit.
These facets and more mirror inner complexity,
balance response-ability, even while each
evolves and remains part of the one . . .
a million different expressions every day;
a never-ending rebuild of integrating the many into one.
Is it any wonder the next me appears faceless,
Not yet place-able, still under construction.
What part of you is under construction? What are you moving away from? What are you moving toward?
Erikson, E. H. 1970. Reflections on the Dissent of Contemporary Youth, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 51, 11-22.
Schultz, D., & S. Schultz. 2009. Theories of Personality, 9th Ed. New York: Wadsworth Cengage Learning].