transition, ego tantrums & identity
Heading into 2021, I had no bold plans to shake up my life, yet somehow within the first half of the year I quit my job to focus solely on my consulting and coaching practice, and we sold our house with the goal of relocating to the mountains.
Exciting, right? After all, I'd been dragging my feet on diving full-time into my own coaching and consultancy practice for at least two years, and I'd been dreaming of returning to the mountains since the day I left them nine years ago. I made both these things happen, so I "should" have been ecstatic.
The reality is that I felt like I'd been on the receiving end of a knockout punch. The entire foundation of my identity was crumbling beneath me. I was going from home-owner to non-home-owner. From employee to my own boss. From being an "expert" to a newcomer. From being an insider to an outsider. From comfort to discomfort. From stability to uncertainty. I was dealing with the loss of old parts of myself, and the grief that accompanies that loss.
As it turns out, even when big changes are our own idea and something we're excited about, our identity still gets shaken and our ego might still kick and scream. And boy did my ego kick and scream. Here's how I first knew my ego was taking the reigns: the hamster wheel in my mind continuously churned out 'what ifs' ranging from the relatively benign (what if I have to back to traditional employment?) to the supremely unsettling (what if my business fails and I lose my house and my relationship?).
All my 'what ifs' were rooted in a deep identification with and need for stability, security and safety, which I had unconsciously associated with traditional employment and staying in one place. Once I pulled those two proverbial rugs out from under my feet, I found myself in a sea of uncertainty and instability. Beneath my awareness, I was (literally) screaming for safety, this need so strong it manifested itself in: long bouts of emotional over-reactivity, physical and mental exhaustion, old injury pains flaring up, and intensely heightened anxiety about, well, everything.
I expected some of this discord, but certainly not to the extent I experienced it nor how long it lasted (read: still in progress). What I needed was time and space to process the complex emotional responses to these major life transitions, and yet time and space were the first things I denied myself. It wasn't until I sat with and allowed myself to truly feel the immensity of my discomfort that I was able to start moving through it.
So what can you learn from this? In times of major transition, whether forced or by choice:
Big changes scare the hell out of our ego, who perceives all change as threat.
Learn your own subtle (and not-so-subtle) cues that your ego is trying to hold on to older versions of your identity. Mine is the hamster wheel of what ifs, but our egos are crafty and show up differently in each one of us.
Allow yourself to experience all that arises during transitions. I admit, at first I tried to silver-lining the hell out of my situation ("You're doing what you've always wanted to do! It's so exciting!"). It wasn't until I stopped to experience the fear and grief that they started to pass through me.
Sit with discomfort, listen for what it's telling you, and breathe through it all. All emotions will pass.
Find practices that ground you. Feeling the literal stability of yourself connected to the ground beneath you can remind you that the feeling of security is always accessible.
Move through transition with as much compassion and patience as you can muster. There is no defined timeline for processing identity evolution and beating yourself up over how you feel or how long it's taking is just another crafty way your ego is trying to hold you back.
Go forth and make those meaningful transitions.
p.s. If you are exploring your own variation of transition, ego tantrums and identity-shifting, I am taking on new coaching clients working through health, career or life transition and all the ups and downs they entail.