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Identity in a time of crisis


Jun 9, 2020 - 0 comments

It has been interesting to watch the process many of us have gone through over the past 3 months.

When the crisis first hit, the response for most of us was: “Will I live, or will I die? Will we survive? Are we going to make it?”

Businesses froze. Everything was put on hold. We were locked down.

By the end of April things had changed.

As things progressed we realised that, even though there were still challenges, we were going to make it. We might be broke, but we are alive, and we now have to deal with a new reality. As has often been said, there is now a new normal.

Covid comic

Moving into May, we realised that we had better get creative and proactive in order to thrive in this new normal. The new question became: “What are these days going to make of us?”

In all of this, the struggle I have watched people go through is an identity crisis.

This identity crisis is, for me, is one of the great benefits or positive things that will come out of the pandemic. It is one of the silver linings in this whole confusing situation.

Having to sit at home and not be able to go to work has forced people to slow down and ask the question:

“Who am I? Does my work define me? Who am I REALLY?”

I grew up in Llandudno, Cape Town, South Africa which is notorious for being a dangerous place to swim. I would often go into the sea at one place, and because of the currents, end up in a completely different place. Just like swimming in Llandudno, many of us start in a direction in life, but without really realising it, end up in a completely different place. A forced quarantine can give us the opportunity to step back and see ourselves from a different perspective.

There are two things I feel quite strongly about:

Firstly – I am OK with doing a job to put food on the table to provide for the family.

Not every job is glamorous. No every job has a deep satisfaction inherent in the work. The satisfaction comes from providing. There will inevitably be times at work where the situation is “character-building”, to say the least. We can’t always have the perfect job, in the perfect company, with the perfect boss, and I am fine with sucking it up and doing the job.

Second – I have a question-mark about “following your passion”.

In the outstanding book, Company of One, by Paul Jarvis, Paul makes the following statement in Chapter 5, Determining the right mindset: “Follow your passion” is irresponsible business advice.

Good business advice is to have a skill that is valuable to your company and its customers, and to continuously get better and better at that skill.

Having said this, a situation like the current crisis can give us the time to evaluate whether we have drifted, and ended up in a place where we never intended to be.

I am a human being, not a human doing.

What if my identity has become what I do, and not what I am? What if my identity has become what I do at work? Being forced to scale down on constant activity might be uncomfortable, but I have discovered that being forced to slow down has given people the space to reassess who they really are.

When I coach clients, we do assessments to try and help people discover who they are. The results are often clouded by what they do. Some of my clients who have redone assessments during this time have come up with very different, and more accurate, results.

Word to the wise: Use this time productively.
Even as you go back to work, don’t charge right back in and get immersed in doing. Even if you use this time to explore who you are and end up changing nothing because you are comfortable with who you are, it would still be a good exercise.

Human doing vs human being

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