Flexible identity

How big is your boat? Does it matter? This article explores how having a flexible identity allows you to change and grow more easily.

Coronavirus has caused an unprecedented, heightened and shared experience of uncertainty.  Beyond that, our shared experiences are in subsets. A friend related a very astute analogy the other day. She said it might be true that:

‘We are all in the same storm, but our boats are all very different.’

You may never have been busier and feel like the speed boat you are in might be fast moving, but lacks capacity. You may be dealing with the very real threat of being on the front line, your boat is showing signs of wear and tear but you are unable to stop for maintenance. Or you may find yourself in a ship in the harbour wondering what purpose you currently serve or will again.

If you find yourself in the ship in the harbour, and have a large part of your identity tied up in your profession, lockdown is probably a bit uncomfortable.

Identity Crisis (or gift)

If you're having a wobble under the broad heading of identity crisis it could be a gift in disguise, although it might not feel like it at the time. A crisis of this nature usually turns out to be a useful disturbance that forces you to reflect on what really matters.

When something causes a jolt in your world (like a new home environment, changing careers, redundancy), we experience emotional chaos as our minds necessarily reconfigure to form in a more appropriate way of being for our new circumstances. Accepting this as part of a natural process can make the feelings of uncertainty easier to tolerate. Validating the experience somehow helps, even if it is just to confirm we’re not going mad!

What is identity anyway?

Many psychologists will tell you most people have seven to nine sub-personalities. We are a different person with our parents, our friends, our partner, our work colleagues etc.  Our identity is formed relative to relationship and we make distinctions for these such as brother, mother, engineer, boss, vegetarian, cyclist and so on.

They are helpful descriptions but not the full picture of a person.

At the ego level of our identity (the part of us we prefer the world to see), we develop personalities ultimately designed to defend us. This is more akin to forming patterns of behaviour and habits, than an accurate description of who we are.

Maybe we are all of these things and maybe none of them, and does it really matter? A more useful line of questioning might be to ask whether the various identities you have for yourself are serving you or getting in the way? And what identities would you like to have?


The crisis of identity is much more a crisis of attachment.

We are attached to what a particular identity means to us by way of things like security, status, attention, being needed, or recognition. If we can accept the conditions of our new reality, we have a chance to let go of our self-constructed perceptions of who we are or should be, and the demands and entitlements that go with them.

This can be liberating and filled with possibility. In the act of acceptance and letting go we are freed up to be in the moment and open to potential.

These are the conditions that create the possibility of living in a future pulled present, rather than a past-informed future.

They are opportunities to let go of ways of being that aren’t working for us, or aren’t available to us anymore, and to build some more hopeful ones.

You decide

It often appears to us that the circumstances of our lives are the cause of how we feel. We can easily blame circumstance for shaking the foundations of our identity. In reality it is an inside-out job. You decide the meaning you attach to any given experience.

This is a powerful concept to reflect on. Much of our human suffering is related to the gap between how we believe life should be for us, and how it actually is.

Identity plays a role in engineering our expectations.

This is a key aspect of Towards Safer Uncertainty, and we have choices in what we choose to attach to.

Let’s do something with it – Future pulled present

Three questions:

  1. What might letting go of parts of your identity allow you to create space for in the future?

  2. Who would you be, if you were not your past?

  3. What future identities would excite you?

If you’d like some help in considering new possibilities and a future pulled present, drop me a line.

This article is a modified version of Identity crisis (of gift?) which was original published in 2017.



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Photo by Eduardo Zmievski on Unsplash

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

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