Most of us have worked hard to build a life that makes us feel a sense of worth. But, have you ever had that moment when you’ve feared you’re too far down a road of invested life to shift and grow?
I learned about the term “narrative identity” a few years back, and it really resonated with how I had always envisioned a story playing out in my life that was somehow following the script of a movie with highs, lows and everything in between.
The theory of narrative identity postulates that individuals form an identity by integrating their life experiences into an internalized, evolving story of the self that provides the individual with a sense of unity and purpose in life. This life narrative integrates one’s reconstructed past, perceived present, and imagined future. Furthermore, this narrative is a story — it has characters, episodes, imagery, a setting, plots, and themes and often follows the traditional model of a story, having a beginning (initiating event), middle (an attempt and a consequence), and an end (denouement). Source
Understanding this helped me to recognize my engrained story that acted as an arc to which I connected all of my past, current and planned realities. When something didn’t seem to fit into this narrative, I would experience dissonance. This could happen on a small scale (a brief friendship that didn’t seem to keep me on course) or a large scale (a career move that took years of my life which was continually fighting against the grain of who I was).
Considering this, I can look back and see how I have traveled down a few paths searching for the subplots that measure up to my master plot only to realize I needed to shift and grow — sometimes after a lot of invested life. For the sake of not writing a novel in one post, I will start with one example.
One of the most paramount experiences I recall having, where I questioned everything, was when decided to stop modeling. I was a model from 14 until 20. My older sister was a model and I believed I could do it as well. Maybe I was trying to measure up to her because I idolized her as my amazingly beautiful and cool older sister. Maybe it was just one of those glamorous industries in the mid 90’s that infiltrated every young girl’s attention from magazines to advertising. Needless to say, I pursued the career and went much longer and further than anticipated.
Fast forward to a moment when I was walking to my apartment in Milan, Italy from the gym when I was 20 years old. I had been living out of suitcases all over the world for over three years and only traveled home for holidays and breaks in between countries. On that evening walk, I had one of those moments of clarity that I am thankful for in retrospect. In that moment, I knew I was ready to stop modeling, move back to NY and go to NYU to get my degree. I didn’t want to just try to “lighten my load” of work in modeling and try to do it all. I knew I was done. I flew home to Pittsburgh as soon as possible and within a couple of weeks, I had moved in with a friend’s friend in New York City.
Rather than connect with my modeling agencies to try to get some jobs here and there (which would have been easy and would have covered my rent in a matter of hours on a job), I got a bartending gig by walking into the first bar I saw on Second Avenue. I had zero work experience outside of modeling, so it worked in my favor that the much of the bartending scene in NY was built around good-looking girls in tank tops and skirts. The manager told me to come back that evening. I was proud to get something that seemed more like a real job, even though my credentials were still based on my physicality as opposed to my brain, but it was a new step, and I knew it was a step in shifting to grow.
This bartending path was another interesting period of my life that had a similar realization after a period of time, but it was not the same experience of being on a path I thought I wanted. I knew bartending was going to pay the bills through my time in university and that was it. Modeling was a career where I invested six years of my life. The experience included being surrounded by all of the challenges one imagines looking at that industry from the outside — horrible agents, horrible photographers, eating disorders, drugs, being treated like an object, no real friends, language barriers, culture shock, etc. I thank God for holding onto me and my parents for raising me well because I made it through these years with minimal damage, but I certainly saw it all.
Realizing I had to shift and grow immediately was imperative in this moment of my life. What if I had weighed the cost of my life spent on modeling versus the risk of stepping into a completely new path? Where would I be today? Certainly not a thriving super model. Most likely I would just be years further behind in trying to get out. But, who knows? I believe our journeys are exactly as they should be in the end, so stopping at 20 was it for me.
Retrospect is always 20/20, isn’t it? However, when I look back I can always see God’s hand in guiding me and giving me that dissonant feeling inside. This modeling experience was integral to my life story as a whole. It is how I saw the world at a very young age. It is why I fell in love with Italian culture and later married an Italian man from Milano. I can’t be grateful enough for the blessings that have born fruit over the years because of my time as a model. But, I am also extremely grateful for that moment walking home from the gym when I realized no matter how much life I invested, it was time to shift and grow.
Being conscious and aware of those moments of clarity is so important. Understanding that a narrative identity may be a thread leading you along your journey is not something to silence. Those spiritual gut jabs that we wrestle with are worth listening to. It may cost a lot more to ignore them and find yourself further invested with a lot less fruit in your life.