To Grow, Let Go of Your Identities

Shawn Casey
Mar 19, 2018 · 4 min read
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From Nantucket island, a beautiful landmark that was recently torn down: the “stilt house” out in Madaket.

March is my birthday month so, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity.

For all my life, I’ve felt a creeping dread as my birthday approached that I would soon need to part with the age I’d identified with for the past 365.

And I’m not talking about the typical “omg I’m entering my mid-thirties and feel old AF.”

I’m talking I used to cry when six was out and seven was in. Never again was I ever going to be six again! For a whole year I’d proudly declared “I’m SIX!” and then suddenly, I was no six more. (And in case you were wondering how the transition went from single to double digits — it was traumatizing.)

Some three decades later, I’m no longer identifying with my age but I am recognizing the parts of myself that no longer serve me, identities I’ve outgrown or no longer wish to have.

And when it comes to behavior change or building sustainable habits, your identity is what can hold you back or set you free.

Know your identities.

To know your identities,(“I’m not good with numbers” or “I’m an unlucky person”), is to know how you will show up in the world. Your behavior is a direct reflection of what you believe yourself to be.

Imagine if I continued to identify as a six year old for the rest of my life? I’d never get a job — let alone think I could move out of the house! Who you think you are holds the potential for who you can become.

And despite this potential, many of the identities we carry around are fundamentally false — labels or beliefs we’ve created that are either self-imposed or put upon us through external sources (societal norms, culture, etc.).

These false identities hold a lot of power over us. When you identify too closely with something that simply isn’t real, you shut yourself off from change, possibility, and growth.

For example, here are some false identities that were previously holding me back:

  1. “I’m just not an early morning person”
  2. “My ideas don’t matter”
  3. “I’m not good at excel”
  4. “I’m not a runner”

None of those things were true — they were simply outdated stories I let myself believe.

These are some current identities I’m trying to dismantle:

  1. “I need chocolate”
  2. “I’m responsible for everyone else’s feelings and thus need to sacrifice mine” (a juicy one!)
  3. “I can’t drive in the city”
  4. “I’m not good at _______” (fill in the blank, the possibilities are endless)

These identities don’t align with my current goals, values, or ideal vision of myself and thus create friction and frustration as I attempt to make the changes I want.

In order to grow, old identities must die for new ones to emerge.

For example, if for for the majority of your adult life you’ve identified as the fun party girl whose M.O. was to go out and keep the party going — but now you want to be the kind of person who gets up early on the weekends and goes to a yoga class followed by the farmer’s market, this new farmer’s market identity is going to be in direct conflict with the party girl identity.

A reckoning between the two must happen. Who matters more? The party girl or the farmer’s market? One identity will have to take a backseat for the other to take the wheel.

Let them go.

I understand it’s not that simple.

Saying goodbye can be hard. Don’t rush it — but also, don’t delay. When you’re ready, take the time to mourn your loss and recognize the good times. That identity served you at some point in your life but is no longer giving you what you need. Onwards and upwards — thanks for the for the memories!

But what about those beliefs that just won’t budge?

Per my last post, many of us hold identities that have been determined by an external source — societal norms based on age, race, gender, class, what degree you do or do not have, where you grew up, what institution you’re part of, your parents, your partner, your friends, etc..

These identities are especially stubborn because you and everyone else around you might actually believe them. The “I’m not good at excel because I’m a girl who likes to talk about feelings” is a good example of false construct we’ve created as a culture.

Realizing this falsity has allowed me to ditch the identity and broaden my horizons.

Furthermore, when you adopt an identity based on someone else’s expectations — or an outdated expectation of yourself! — you drift away from your true self, your north star.

And without your north star, you’re lost.

Decisions are harder. You say weird things. You act in ways your regret.

You feel stuck… anxious. Not yourself.

The friction between who you are and who you think you should be is creating drama and dis-ease because you are not living a life according to you.

So if you are actively wanting to make a change — or simply feel that something is “off” — take a look at your identities and where they come from. It may be a false identity that is holding you back.

And if you think you have no control over this — perhaps that’s an identity to look more closely at! The “I have no control over my life” also known as the “this is just who I am” or “this is how the world works” can always be re-evaluated.

We always, always have the power to reclaim our lives, even when our identities have run amok.

You are the purveyor of your own reality — what you believe is true, will be true.

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