Losing My Identity

Part 1 of a Series on Identity

Before I dive into my thoughts and studies on the subject matter of identity, I would like to make a few statements:

  • It is impossible for me to post anything that I do not desperately need myself.
  • I’m speaking to the person who has gone through life building identities that have fallen away or crumbled in the wake of experience.
  • I’m speaking to business leaders who are at a cross roads dealing with major disruptions to their identity as a leader and as a person — especially during this pandemic and its impact on business and life as we’ve known it.
  • My message is for those of us who are looking for a community on our journey to wellbeing from the inside-out.
  • My mission is to motivate people to ask questions, explore, and seek answers.
  • I am not speaking to those who feel they have it all together; who don’t think they need this content or my experience. Those people may eventually need this content, but they don’t have the heart to receive it at this time. I respect where all people are on their journey.

When I write, I am able to dig into a topic that I may have been wrestling with for months if not years. It is therapeutic. I believe we all experience challenges, and we can, in turn, share our learnings with others. The only reason I started this blog was to have an outlet to give my life to others. Like a dandelion that spreads its seed, the topics I cover are my seeds for others. If what I write helps even one person find some understanding, it is all worth it.

Your identity is what you are rooted in. It is your sense of self and sense of worth.

“Identity” has been nudging the forefront of my mind as a subject matter that I needed to write about. I believe we all wrestle with identity through our lives. Sometimes we are coasting in a place where our identities seem to be working and in harmony with our surroundings. Other times, it’s as though we hit a wall and our identities splat against a circumstance or experience and can’t move beyond that wall with any service to our lives. These are identity crisis, and I’ve had my share in my life.

This subject is so rich and so deep, I will be making this a series of pieces. For this first piece, I am focusing on how we form our identities and the traps that we fall into. In my next pieces, I will address Identity & Work, The Truth About Identity, and anything else that is born from my writings.

Identity is culturally enforced. In Eastern cultures, identity is born through family and your place within a community. Whatever you contribute and bring to your community determines your value. In Western cultures, identity is individualistic and is created through your own personal human decisions and achievements. Both of these cultural paths to develop an identity can leave one crushed under the weight and burden of the source of self and worth.

Understanding the culture in which you are born into helps to define how your identity has been built. As an American, my identity has been built from within and who I believed myself to be. My dreams, desires, and choices have built my identity in connection to the environments I have grown up in.

One of the traps to the Western path toward identity is that your thoughts and who you think you are is inconsistent and changes over time. You will contradict yourself over and over again. Your 20 year old self will cringe at the decisions of your 15 year old self; your 25 year old will cringe at the decisions of your 20 year old self, etc. So, basically some of your current decisions will be cringe-worthy in your future reflection.

Another example of the contradictions that will arise within your own identity formation is the dissonance we feel when two identities can’t harmoniously coexist. I have spent nearly two decades of my life building a career and being an entrepreneurial woman. As soon as I became a mother, I had a complete identity crisis as I tried to make it possible for these two “me’s” to successfully coexist at their highest capacity. It felt as though one always had to win. I could never again exclusively be the female business woman or exclusively the mother to my children.

The burden and weight of designing and carrying out my identity has proven to be too much time and time again. I have never been capable of meeting that deep need for a sense of self and worth through the identities that I have built.

In “After the Fall”, Arthur Miller’s character Quentin says: “You know, more and more I think that for many years I looked at life like a case at law, a series of proofs. When you’re young you prove how brave you are, or smart; then what a good lover; then, a good father; finally how wise, or powerful or whatever. But underlying it all, I see now, there was a presumption. That I was moving on an upward path toward some elevation, where-God knows what-I would be justified, or even condemned-a verdict anyway. I think now that my disaster really began when I looked up one day-and the bench was empty. No judge in sight. And all that remained was the endless argument with oneself-this pointless litigation of existence before an empty bench. Which, of course, is another way of saying — despair.”

Another trap of the Western path toward finding identity is that any good thing that you choose — work, love, education, fashion, looks, children — will have to become your significance and purpose exclusively. It means that the quality of that thing will have to be the measure of your worth. Something that was a good thing becomes an anchor to who you are, and it will destroy you if it is taken away or if it doesn’t (which it can’t) fulfill your deepest desire for value. It goes from a good thing to an ultimate thing.

No one can be exclusively happy with who they are and what they have created. You can’t self-praise yourself to find the sense of self and worth that you’re searching for. The praise and value must be externally confirmed. Imagine a violinist who self claims to be the best in the world. How is this proven? Simply through their own designation and claim? It’s impossible.

So, we find ourselves immersed in a culture that tells us to dream and become whatever we want, and yet it leaves us empty. This path to building an identity will never fulfill the search for self and worth. It is litigation before an empty bench.

I look forward to continuing this topic in my next piece covering identity in work and leadership. I will unpack more questions and work toward a thoughtful search for truth.

Originally published at https://www.alexismaida.com on May 5, 2020.

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Alexis is an experienced executive with 15+ years of expertise in strategy, communications, branding, marketing and wellness.

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Alexis Maida

Alexis Maida

Alexis is an experienced executive with 15+ years of expertise in strategy, communications, branding, marketing and wellness.

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