For those concerned about my well-being or thinking that I’ve finally become unhinged, let me share with you three short examples of this phenomena – a stuck friend, a cancer survivor, and my campers:
The first is an excerpt from a conversation with a dear friend. We see each other infrequently thanks to distance and unyielding demands on our time.
“I’m stuck,” she started, “I’m not sure what I should be doing next.” Nothing seems to be working. She is toggling between looking for a new job – thanks to being laid off from a financial services firm – and searching for that something that would really motivate her. She is in her late fifties. Time is a constant worry as her severance package is nearing its completion. Her age and age discrimination are only complicating matters.
Conversation number two occurred when I was catching up with a friend of my sister’s whom I’ve known for more than thirty years. She recently survived breast cancer thanks to aggressive treatment: a double mastectomy, chemo, radiation. She wasn’t so much into talking about her illness or recovery. “I can’t do this anymore,” she said of her job as an academic researcher. The grueling hours. The endless stresses. The politics. Her tone suggested that the need to rethink the job was rooted in self-preservation. She couldn’t do that type of stressful work anymore more now that she was a survivor.
Conversation number three was really an observation. It happened when I picked up my eleven and thirteen year olds from camp. BTW, camp seems like a real dream. There is an art shed. A dining facility. Archery. Woodworking. A far cry from the gimp-infused Girl Scout camp I attended circa 1975.
As soon as they got into the car a whirlwind of information was bantered about. “Mids. POs. Seaman. Want to try archery? First you need to accomplish your Seaman Certificate.” It went on and on. It was all about ‘who gets to do what, when.’ I was amazed at how clear it was to them and how quickly they’d adopted this camp eco system persona. It provided them a sense of place, a path forward, belonging.
Identity was front and center in these three observations. Let’s face it in life we can eagerly adopt a popular or present identity – like my campers. We can feel stuck when it is removed or overshadowed by other demands. We can lack the ability to see when it is time to interrogate it – like my sister’s friend.
One story sticks with me from my research. It was of a breast cancer survivor who lived in NY City. Like my sister’s friend, this woman found herself searching high and low for her pre-cancer self after she’d emerged as a ‘survivor.’ The net of it is – her former self was nowhere to be found.
Cancer – or surviving it – had triggered a transition for her. A shift in what held value or meaning to her. The things that were important before – work, restaurants, Saturday’s in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow – no longer held sway. As she walked the streets of Manhattan she slowly realized that she had to begin work on re-calibrating: Dreaming. Exploring. Re-imagining.
Yes, I think more identity work is ahead for me. Could these events be collectively reminding me of identity’s dynamic nature?
In the days that remain this summer, I hope that you find a moment to enjoy whom you alone are and the courage to ask yourself more of whom you might become.
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