January 15, 2021

Loss & Renewed Purpose: The Experience of Shifting Identities

A sociology lecturer once explained; the minute you meet someone, questions around what they do in terms of their work/ careers leads to assumptions, a classification of who they are/ social standing and determines your interest, interaction, and relationship.

Think about it, we all have identities which have shifted over time, from being at school, a student, unemployed or employed, a mother, a sister, a wife or husband, a politician, an activist, the list is endless. Sometimes our identities are tied to a phase, a new chapter in life, our careers and interests.

My purpose has always been to strengthen the healthcare system and that’s how I became one of those who fell prey to my identity being strongly linked to my career. It happens early on, you are young, you want to prove yourself, be ‘successful’, our careers become our everything. Many of us do not even have much of a choice, there are bills to pay and we need to get on with it. What no one tells us, is that, constantly being busy means your actual purpose is put on a back burner, you become focussed on smaller tasks, smaller wins but not that larger dream or purpose. Psychologists refer to the term “enmeshment”  to describe the process where your career becomes enmeshed with your identity and this affects the development of the self.

That said, it is not easy as your identity shifts or as you begin to realise that the jobs you had defined you. For multiple reasons, I shifted jobs, from academia into the advocacy space. My last gig, about two years ago; I woke up one morning worried about the future but decided to call it a day, it was time. That’s how I became a consultant and that was also a rude awakening of sorts not to have any fancy title or affiliation as I had for a large chunk of my life, at least work-wise.  There was a sense of loss, it was a scary feeling and sometimes it still is. Everywhere you go, or everyone you meet asks you about your current job title or gig. When you’re invited for webinars, or even for journal submissions, the reality is that you have to belong “somewhere”. There isn’t really a well carved out space for global health freelancers even though the world of work is changing or has already changed.

For the first time, as my identity shifted, I began to have a profound awareness of the “self” I also began acting classes and really found my zen once again, clarity of thought and focus, it was a much-needed re-set. In a way it was liberating and stressful all at the same time. My enmeshed identity took about 16 months to detox and finally I found my feet. I also have a feeling that life isn’t done with either of us as yet, shifts in our identities are normal, even though the period of transition is difficult. I have learnt it brings a world of opportunity, a renewed identity and spurs personal growth once we embrace change.

As we reflect on who we are and who we want to be, I encourage you to watch Jay Shetty’s video, “Build a Life not a Resume”

Dr Shakira Choonara is an award-winning independent public health practitioner, and pens #ThoughtSpace with a touch of inspiration, critical thinking, and creativity

Tweet: @ChoonaraShakira

Blog Space