I’m having an identity crisis. I don’t know who I am or what I’m supposed to do. I think I’ve finally taken on more than I can actually manage. I feel totally incompetent at the work that’s in front of me right now. And, I don’t know what to do. I’m not sure I have what it takes. Ironicially, this happens to me every couple of years, or more often if I’m paying attention. Because, I am always looking for what’s next and saying yes to new challenges and new adventures in my life.
Leadership is a perpetual identity crisis. It calls us to be in the risk and to explore our edges. It is an experience of perpetually stretching and growing by plunging ourselves into what’s next and what’s needed now. It’s like swimming in ever deeper and ever more turbulent water with more and more obstacles and hazards and fewer and fewer safe places to rest. I’m afraid I might drown. I’m even more afraid that I might go back to where I know it’s safe.
So, who am I? I realize that I’m not the person I thought I was. I thought I had discovered myself and that I was living and working in my strengths and according to my values. I thought I was living a life on purpose. And, actually, that’s all true. But, I couldn’t see that I was wearing a mask and that part of who I had developed myself to be was in response to the situations I was in. I had it all “figured out.” Ha. I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I knew who I was.
But, now who I was is insufficient. The mask I was wearing looks obvious and ridiculous. I can’t believe that I thought that represented me. I need to take that mask off and discover more of who I am. I need to find new strengths. I need to develop new muscles and strengthen others. I need to explore who I am now.
But, it’s scary. I think I need to be someone I’m not. I put on a new mask; a mask that looks like what I think people want me to be. I feel safer behind the mask, but it’s even more obvious and ridiculous than the one I just took off. I realize that my work is to explore who I am underneath all the masks. And, to be that. But, I’m afraid that who that is isn’t good enough, smart enough, credentialed enough or whatever. So, I cling to the mask. But, the mask suffocates me.
After experimenting with this new mask for a while, I realize something I already know. I remember. No matter how many masks I put on and no matter how closely they resemble the masks of the people around me, nobody will buy it. They see through the masks and see who I am underneath. They can tell I’m being inauthentic and it makes them not trust me. It’s weird. It’s defensive. It keeps me separate. And, I hate it.
What I remember is that “my people” – the ones who like me, get me, understand me and want to work and play with me – like me for who I am under the mask. They want more of that. And, they see through it. And, I remember that “not my people” (the other ones) don’t like me, get me, understand me or want to work or play with me even if I have the “right” mask on. They, too, see through it and aren’t fooled.
So, I choose to take off as many of the masks as I can see in this moment and remember, discover and invent who I am now. It’s terrifying. It’s vulnerable. And, it’s liberating.