March 2014 Newsletter

My Revelation (or You May Not Be Who You Think You Are)
I had an insight about a year ago that rocked my inner world. Having believed I was an introvert my whole life, I realized that I’m now much more of an extrovert. Translation: I get most of my energy from being around other people, albeit usually one or two at a time. Boy oh boy was I surprised. It had never occurred to me that I could change in this way. Introvert schimtrovert you might be thinking, what's the big deal?

It's true that terms like introvert can be reductive—there are many other aspects to identity and we're always evolving, but they can capture a part of what makes us tick at a particular time. For example, I had constructed large parts of my self-narrative out of the bricks and mortar of flying solo, and thought my life would always be a mostly unmovable feast of solitude. Not that there is anything wrong with that, rather the issue was that my conception of myself had not kept pace with the reality of what truly feeds me. Realizing that I actually prefer to spend my time with other people has opened up a whole new world of possibilities and complexities for me. More on that in a moment!

Indeed, I think many of us have a tendency to think of our identities and personalities as relatively fixed and to resist the idea that they might be quite mutable. We tend to latch onto a rigid “script” of who we or others think we are from a young age, denying ourselves the ability to be spontaneous in our choices and views. However, when we’re able to make choices “off-script,” we can connect with the current truth of who we are, what we want, and how we most want to contribute. As a result, we’re much more likely to have a fuller and freer experience, and the possibility of reaching our full potential. 

Since my realization, I’ve made some significant changes in how I see myself, and in how I live my daily life. The process has been liberating for sure, but it's also been scary. It’s taken energy to build my tolerance for the level of vulnerability that arises from wanting to spend much of my time with other people. Dealing with oneself is hard enough, but this people party is a whole new can ‘o worms!  Additionally, I’ve been working on becoming more comfortable with the unknown. Not thinking of oneself with a set identity can be harder than hanging on to a pre-existing self-image even if it’s “unflattering” for a couple of reasons: it takes real work to change one’s mind-set and behaviors, and it takes courage to consider that we may never 100% know ourselves or nail down a permanent identity because there actually isn’t anything permanent about us! Still, it's worth braving self-exploration as it leads to a much richer and more meaningful life—from making unexpected friendships, to pursuing a career we never imagined, and even living in places not previously on our “map.”

My own little private Idaho eureka got me thinking about how to assist you in opening up to the surprise of who YOU might be. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Jot down a list of what you think of as hallmarks of your identity. For example, do you consider yourself a more or less serious person? Are you more of a leader or follower? A procrastinator or a “roll up your sleeveser”? Are you somewhere in between all of these attributes? Meditate on your list. Ask your “peanut gallery” to chime in once you've done your own reflection.
  • Apply the ‘3 Really’s Test’ and ask yourself: Do I really, really, really want to continue to do things the way I’ve been doing them? Is my self-narrative really, really, really accurate? Or is it a script I could discard? What is stopping me from changing?
  • Ask yourself which aspects of yourself have changed over the course of your life? Note why and how they've changed. Try to discover what propelled these changes.
  • Reflect on when you tend to be more open to experimenting with your identity. Consider how things like travel and attire can help spark change: we're creatures of habit so it’s often easier to try new things out when we’re out of our routine and literally in a new outfit or a new place.
  • Build your tolerance for complexity and impermanence as you examine your identity. Consider that your many layers and even contradictions are perfectly okay as well as how you can be more open to the lack of permanency in yourself and others.
  • Ponder how imagining you have a fixed identity could be a coping or defense mechanism. It sure was for me! While this is definitely not the case for many people, for me, thinking of myself as an introvert was sometimes a way I protected myself from the uncertainties and joys of relationship. 
  • Reach out for support in your explorations if you feel overwhelmed by the process.
  • Don’t believe everything you hear about yourself (from yourself or others)! Challenge yourself to think bigger about who you are and to be open to the surprise of your always-evolving self.     

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