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  • Writer's pictureAlex Rathbun

My struggle with an unstable identity

Most people, when you first meet them, ask "what do you do?". And for my whole life I've been able to give a simple, clear answer: "I'm in school for Advertising!" or "I'm a Graphic Designer!". I loved being a full-time graphic designer because I felt like once people found out that's what I did, they already had a good grasp of who I was. Plus it's a good feeling to tell people that you're a stable adult with a steady income.

Through some therapy and deep thinking, though, I've come to realize that one reason I've experienced anxiety lately has been my recent career change that has lead to an identity shift, which is today's Brightly Alex Mental Health Monday topic.

Now, my job title isn't so simple. Now, when someone asks what I do, every. single. time. I suddenly have to evaluate where I'm at in my quest to become who I want to be professionally.

Even if I had a firm grasp on what my professional goals are, it wouldn't be simple, but I don't even have that. Every week, it seems, I decide I want to focus less on being a designer and more on being a photographer. Then the next week it switches. Then the following week I wonder if I'm even feeling fulfilled by these career options so I brainstorm who else I might want to become. Then the week after that I remember that I've had a lifelong dream of becoming a musician and maybe now is the time I tap into that. You get my point... The complete vocational freedom has in some ways become crippling.

We, as a society, put so much value into our vocational identity.

And in addition to feeling pressure from those around me to define what I'm doing, I probably feel the most pressure from myself. I am an Enneagram 4w3 and lately I'm really feeling that 3 wing ("the achiever"). I need to feel productive to feel worth and when I don't have clear direction of what to do to feel a sense of accomplishment, I easily believe the lie that I don't have worth.

Unfortunately I cannot end this post by saying that I now feel resolved in this. But the beautiful and hopeful aspect I can end with is that I have people around me encouraging me to lean into this season. Though it can feel paralyzing, it actually is a gift that I get a "pause" button on my career. I realize that not everyone has this, so instead of feeling stuck in this season of the unknown, I am trying to feel grateful for a time to contemplate and seek wisdom and direction without the pressure of a time-sensitive decision.

Have you ever been in a season where you can't easily define what you do? Was there a mindset shift that helped you? I'd love to hear about it in the comment section below.

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