Sometimes we flounder in an effort to figure out who we are at this stage of life. As someone who has always been driven, who always sought challenging work and opportunities to advance, this time of life has thrown me a curve ball. It seems that much of what I had used to identify myself is falling away.
Joan Chittister writes in her book The Gift of Years that there comes a time when all the perks and titles of a work position go away. We spend so many years climbing a career ladder, it can come as a shock, even for people who planned ahead for retirement. In her words, “I have spent my life being somebody important, and now there’s nothing left but me. Just me.”
In this country, it is routine for people who have just met to ask “So, what do you do?” It seems only natural, but in some countries (like England) it is considered rude. The question reflects the central role work plays in American life. Everything revolves around our jobs. So who do we become when we no longer have the jobs we once held?
How do we construct a meaningful period of life when society places such high value on productivity? I can imagine feeling guilty if I don’t fill my weeks with at least volunteer work. But there may be purpose in not filling our days and weeks.
Consider spending time as a human being instead of a human doing. What might it mean to just be? To allow yourself time to reflect. To go within and explore the depths of who you are. Yes, many of us must continue generating income. Still, there is time for something else.
Chittister says that “the meaning of life is not about doing.” She’s referring to the outward busy-ness of effort and action. In the way that regular meditation practice provides real benefits despite the appearance that the practitioner is “doing nothing,” slowing down enough so that you can discover more provides meaning and can enrich your life.
Who are you now, without the trappings of a job title? In The Power of Choice, I explore this issue, inviting readers to examine who they are beyond any job or role or public image they may have fulfilled. This is natural to do when we are struck with a sudden catastrophe. Any time the rug is pulled out from under our neatly ordered lives, it’s easy to stop and see beyond to who we really are. But you don’t have to wait for a house fire or a life-threatening diagnosis. You don’t even have to wait for retirement. Shift out of the coma of ordinary life and seek that which lies within.
Peel away the labels used to identify yourself. Look beyond the roles you’ve lived. That’s not who you are any more than your car is. Those are simply the paths you have taken in life so far. Look deeper until you glimpse your authentic self. Reach for that core.
Like an iceberg, there is much, much more to who you are beneath the surface of what the world can see. When you get beneath the masks you’ve worn and the roles you’ve played, you can uncover who you really are. And that journey is worthy of your time.