Finding Your Identity.

Before Christmas Kim and I were invited to a business networking event in Richmond, London, which was being hosted by our friends Helen and Ray; the idea of going to see them was good motivation for me, the problem was that there would be a lot of other people there, and that filled me with terror.

Two of my issues with these sorts of events are that I struggle with small-talk, and I’m scared of the inevitable question that you cannot avoid at networking events, “so, what do you do?”  The thought of this made me panic because I didn’t know how to answer the question, and was worried that I’d look a complete wally turning up to a networking event unsure of who I am and what I do.

With Kim’s support I made it to the event and got to say hi to Helen and Ray, but other than that I was completely zoned out, I was overwhelmed by the number of people and clamed up, one lady came up to Kim and I but I couldn’t speak, thankfully Kim explained my muteness and the lady was lovely and understood.

The second half of last year was tough for me on a number of levels, I had lost all direction with my work, I had fallen out of love with running, and I was having a daily battle with low mood. 

For Christmas Kim bought me ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear (Amazon link below), and it’s brilliant.  I love to read these sorts of books to expand my knowledge and gain insights into how to manage my mental health, but sometimes I find them overwhelming because there’s generally a lot of information and things to try, and I start worrying that I’ll never do it all.  Luckily this book has the answer to that; you don’t have to do it all in one go, creating new habits is about starting small and building up, so I asked myself, what’s the main take-away from what I’ve read?  The answer is about my identity, who am I, and what am I.

“Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve.  This leads us to outcome-based habits.  The alternative is to build identity-based habits.  With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.”

James Clear (Atomic Habits)

Reading this was a bit of a light bulb moment for me, I generally spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to achieve, and those goals seem to get further away rather than closer to being achieved. 

Reading about identity-based habits not only took me back to the networking event, it transported me back to my childhood.  Growing up I never knew what I wanted to be or do, all I knew was what I didn’t want to do, and that was go to University.  After finishing my A-levels, my brother got me work experience in a hotel in London, and after that they offered me a job as a luggage porter, and this was the start of a career of doing what I didn’t really want to do and not knowing what I did want to do anyway.

When I did look for new jobs, I would be wanting something different, but I never knew what I was really looking for; I would spend hours scouring job websites, but the problem was I couldn’t make head nor tale of the different job titles (recruitment agents are genius at making something sound complicated and out of reach, unless you know what you’re looking for).

I’ve had other times where I lost my identity, although if you’ve never really had one, can you claim to lose it?  One time that sticks in my mind was when one company gave me an alternative, resign now or we performance manage you out!  I took the resigning option.  Because it happened so suddenly, I felt like a lost fart in a thunderstorm; I remember walking along Chiswick High Road feeling embarrassed because I felt I didn’t fit in with the other people walking around during normal work hours, I felt like I had a neon sign above me saying ‘Unemployed’. 

Around this time, I had some ideas of what I wanted to do, I started selling second hand and collectible books, I wrote a novel, and Kim and I had started the Dream On Foundation (we hosted events to promote small businesses, musicians, artists and complimentary health therapists), but none of them felt like a career.

My identity did another vanishing act when I had my breakdown, but this time things were a bit different because I couldn’t go back to what I was doing, and finding another job was terrifying considering I couldn’t open my CV without panicking (I still can’t), so I had to come up with something new, and that’s when the blog writing came up.

Some people make starting your own business sound very simple, and success can come ‘overnight’; the truth is that that’s not true at the best of times, throw in anxiety and depression and it becomes a hell of a lot harder.

I started off with big ideas, the blog will take off, I’ll get sponsors for Adventures of an Anxious Mind, I’ll earn decent money being a mental health speaker.

The reality is that it’s been, and continues to be a difficult journey.  Yes, I’m making some progress, but I’m still a million miles from where I want to be.

So, back to ‘Atomic Habits’. 

“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity.  It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this.  It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.”

James Clear (Atomic Habits)

Some of you may know that many years ago I wrote a book called ‘Rotten Apples’ which I published on Amazon Kindle, needless to say it hasn’t set the literary world on fire, in fact it’s not even smouldering.  The idea of calling myself a writer was a bit of a joke and has remained so even after publishing over 100 blogs.

I also do a lot of running but calling myself a runner didn’t seem right either; it’s the same with being a mental health speaker.

The problem is that we have set ideas or beliefs of what a writer or a runner is, for me you have to have achieved a level of success, although I couldn’t tell you exactly what that level is.  Other people also have their own ideas of what certain identities look like which can be very different to your belief.

“The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it.”

James Clear (Atomic Habits)

Something very unexpected happened at the end of last year, I received an e-mail from Amazon about a royalty payment I was due!  Initially I thought it was a scam, but I decided to log into my Amazon Publishing account and blow me down I had sold copies of Rotten Apples!  I can’t say that I’ve promoted it for quite some time, so the fact people even found it let alone bought it blew my mind.  Now, the number of sales was 2, and the royalty payment was for £1, but still I was so excited, and proud; maybe it’s time to call myself a writer? (Click on the image below for a link to Amazon…… Well, I better promote it now I’m a writer!

“New identities require new evidence.  If you keep casting the same votes you’ve always cast, you’re going to get the same results you’ve always had.”

James Clear (Atomic Habits)

Based on the evidence, I’m going to start calling myself a writer, a runner, and a mental health speaker.  The evidence as far as success goes may be small, but what matters is that these are things I enjoy doing and dare I say, love doing. 

The one problem I see is how other people will react, what beliefs do they have as to what a writer or runner looks like?  I’d love to say I have the attitude Billy Connolly has which is to say “I care not a jot” but we all know this is easier said than done.

I guess if the statements come with honesty then it makes it clear the level that I’m at, I’m not going to pretend or exaggerate my levels of achievement, I am where I am, I accept that and I’m proud of what I have achieved, especially when you consider the challenges I’ve faced and continue to face.

The main thing I want to change is the effect it has on me, I often feel guilty for doing the things I enjoy when Kim is the one working hard to earn money, this often means I don’t do them, or get anxious about doing them, but what if by changing the perception of my own identity it means I can actually forge a career I want?  I can finally find my identity!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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