The Chameleon Identity
I have a lot of friends. Friends from high school. Friends from college. Friends from graduate school. Friends from my time spent living in Michigan. And now friends from Remote Year. But I can tell you with complete and utter honesty that I highlight different aspects of myself depending upon the friend that I'm with or talking to.
I firmly believe that it's something we all do, not necessarily because we don't want to "be ourselves" around these different people, but because we have points of connection and common interests with people surrounding different things.
My friends from soccer? We tend to discuss soccer more than anything else.
My friends from science classes, grad school or lab? We tended to discuss lab, our classes, or just science in general?
My friends from Beachbody coaching? We tend to talk about coaching.
My friends from Remote Year? We tend to talk about Remote Year.
There's certainly nothing wrong with that. It's natural that things that we originally connected with people over will be the thing that we gravitate toward when conversing with these people. But, it can mean that And I don't know where I heard this originally, but I've taken to calling it The Chameleon Identity.
The chameleon Identity.
Everytime you meet a new person, we all construct a new story of who we are and how they want them to see us. It’s not inauthenticity. It’s just highlighting different aspects of ourselves depending upon who we’re speaking with. And it’s all because of connection. What does this person like? What is there personality type? How can we make them comfortable? Usually, we’re inherently asking ourselves these questions and they inform how we go about making those new connections.
INAUTHENTICITY, PERFECTIONISM & INTEGRITY in identity…
I’ve found that some of the biggest things that interfere with our ability to take on a new identifier or label in our life are inauthenticity, perfectionism and integrity.
So often, we try to present ourselves in a pretty little package to the new people we meet. We want to wrap ourselves in the best paper, perfectly creased and folded, with little embellishments that demonstrate the care and intention that was put into creating our lives. We want the way people see us (our wrapping paper) in way that portrays us favorably and demonstrates our worthiness, presenting us at our best. Ultimately, though, this is validation.
Think of it this way - how often do you describe what you do for work in the same manner? Oftentimes, you don’t! This is particularly the case if you love what you do! If you enjoy your work, if you’re passionate about it, you want the people you’re talking to to love it as much as you do. You want them to see how wonderful is! So, when you’re talking to different people, you highlight different aspects of what you do each and every time. You wrap the box differently every time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be connection seeking. It can be validation seeking, and if we depend too much on that validation, it can cause problems.
When it comes to integrity…that can be a different beast all together…
When I made the decision to go on Remote Year, my sister-in-law’s brother made a comment that, originally made me a bit defensive. He said something akin to: “Didn’t you say that one of your reasons for leaving graduate school was you wanted to be closer to your family? Well…now you’re leaving again aren’t you?” And fuck did I feel called out. I immediately wanted to defend my honor.
Integrity is huge for me. Part of why I have such follow-through on my goals is because I don’t want my integrity to come into question. I don’t’ ever want someone to look at me and say, “You said this…but now you’re not doing that anymore.” It’s a big reason why I struggled so much with leaving graduate school. I didn’t want my integrity to be called into question. I talk about this a bit more here. But…here’s the thing…
You’re allowed to change your mind. You’re allowed to change your focus. If we weren’t allowed to, what kind of crazy careers would we be doing in adulthood that we wanted so badly to be when we were kids? Astronauts? Professional athletes? Dogs and cats? I know this is an extreme example, but when you frame it that way, doesn’t it sound ridiculous? So many people make career changes. So many people get divorced. And sometimes those life transitions and changes are dramatic AF and are difficult. But we have to give ourselves permission to change. We have to give ourselves permission to change our mind.
Last, but not least….authenticity.
When we’re constantly changing our identifier, constantly highlighting and featuring different facets of ourselves and our personality…it’s understandable, but is it authentic? Maybe it is. Or maybe it isn’t. But, here’s something that we can all shoot for.
Goal: To be so unapologetic about who I am and the identifiers that I you see and love in yourself that you show up the exact same way regardless of the person you’re interacting with. If parts of my personality don’t jive with someone, that’s okay. But the goal is to not feel like I need to hide those aspects of my personality around those that don’t jive with it…Unapologetic authenticity. That’s the goal. And if you’ve got that down, then, in my opinion, you’ve achieved the ultimate in being confident and authentic.
But, what about when we undergo a change in identity?
So often in our lives, we experience shifts in our identity. It can be something simple like a change in age which takes us from a teenage to a twenty-something, a change in educational status from a student to a graduate, or sometimes we experience more drastic changes like becoming a parent, changing careers, getting married and much more. Sometimes these are happy changes in identity; things we’ve willed and wished for. But other times, those shifts in identity can be very difficult to navigate and difficult to let go of.
For me, I really struggled with leaving science and my doctoral program behind. There was so much about being a scientist that validated my own sense of worthiness. People generally tend to be respectful of you when you tell them you’re getting your PhD in Microbiology or that you’re a biomedical researcher studying X, Y, Z subject matter. They say “Wow!” or “You must be really smart!” or, in the case of a random Home Depot employee when I was in graduate school, “Wow, you’re a glutton for punishment.” Regardless, there was an inherent air of respect and renown ingrained in this field.
Coaching, on the contrary, does not necessarily carry this kind of respect. In fact, for many of the people in my life and many of the haters I’ve encountered, they question its validity as career, period. I love coaching. I know it’s a career. But, when I was getting feedback from the people in my life that it wasn’t a “real job”, I really struggled with that. And it made me hold on for dear life to my identifier as a scientist and PhD student.
So, what helped?
So much of what made this transition easier for me was being in a new place and around new people. In the midst of making this transition, I was thrust into a community of 50 strangers halfway across the world. These people had no preconceived notions about who I was or where I came from and, in that regard, it gave me a clean slate. For these people, my labels and identifiers weren’t changing. It was all they ever new of me, allowing me to embrace a new identity without resistance from the people in my life.
That’s my biggest advice to someone going through a difficult life transition; a transition where letting go of their old labels and identifiers has been difficult. Give yourself that clean slate. Meet some new people within that new community. To these people, there is not change in label. They know you as whatever your new identifier is.
If you’ve never run before…join a running group and the people there will identify you as a runner.
If you’ve never crafted before…go to the saturday market anyways and sell your wares. The people there will identify you as a crafter.
It doesn’t matter what your change in identity is! If you put yourself amongst new people who don’t know any different, you give yourself that blank slate. They’ll adopt your new identity, no questions asked and that’s extremely helpful!
ADOPTING NEW IDENTIFIERS…
When I recorded a podcast on identity with my good friend, Kathleen, we came upon an interesting question: “At what point can you adopt a new identifier or label?” We were talking about it in the context of training for a half marathon. When reading a forum on running, somebody asked, “At one point can I call myself a runner? I’m new at this. At what point is it okay for us to identify with that label?”
The answer? Oh my gosh, I loved it! “The moment you step you the door and decide this is something you’re going to do, you’re a runner. Do you go on runs? Then you’re a runner.”
Seems simple, right? Well, oftentimes it’s not that simple for some of us. And a big reason for that is impostor syndrome. I’m going to dig into impostor syndrome more in a future blog post, but essentially it’s the feeling wherein you doubt your own accomplishments, don’t feel like you’re enough, or that you have a fear that you’re a “fraud” or will be “found out”. It’s a feeling that I felt exceptionally familiar with in graduate school, but I’ve come to find that it’s something that can come up in so many different parts of our lives. In science, in coaching, in podcasting, etc. I’ve constantly found myself struggling with.
This is particularly problematic when you’re new at something. I’ve constantly found myself asking the question: “Do I have the right to call myself this when it’s something that’s new in my life?” With coaching, I was uncertified, untrained, and had never worked with a client before. Did I still have the right to call myself a coach? With podcasting, I had only released one episode, had few downloads, etc. and I constantly questioned where I had the right to call myself the “host” of my podcast.
I’ll never forget a workout that I was doing one time. The trainer was kicking my butt and I was struggling through and finally she yelled out, in her peppy, cheerleader voice, “YOU’RE AN ATHLETE! You may not be paid to be one, but you’re an ATHLETE!” That was a profound moment for me.
We seem to only allow ourselves to adopt the labels that we’re experienced in, whose skills we have fully-formed. But that’s bullshit! Pursue those passions anyway! Adopt those labels anyway! Even if a skillset isn’t fully formed…it’s still a skill in your toolbox! And it’s a skillset that you can call upon whenever you want. That way, the next time someone asks you “What do you do?”, you can respond, maybe with a little bit of sass and snark like my girl Kathleen did: “You’re going to have to be more specific? I do a lot of things…”
What I’ve realized is this…Once you start making conscious decisions that are directing down the path of the value you’re trying to pursue, yes you can adopt that identity. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the realm of fitness, coaching, writing, etc. you can still adopt that label. Is a parent any less a parent just because they’ve only had a kid for a week? No! So, why is this any different? I’m an athlete. I’m a podcaster. I’m a writer. I’m a mentor. I’m a motivator. I’m a coach.
Gimme just one more soap box moment, friends…
I think the first step we can take is to recognize that we have the chameleon identity. That we change our colors and highlight different facets of our personality depending upon the situation. Being able to lose that and just BE who we are with whoever we meet is the end all and be all of authenticity.
What does it take to get there? Endless amounts of courage and the decision to be consistent. If we can present ourselves authentically to one person, we should make the commitment to doing that with the next person, and the next. And the next. Consistency. That’s going to be the answer.
We might fail. But, we must be nice to ourselves when we do. The how isn’t simple or easy. But, if we continually work on it, that’s what’s going to make the difference. It might take 2 years, it make take 10! Whatever, we just need to keep working on it.