Articles Leadership Moments

Leadership: A Perpetual Identity Crisis

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.


About the author

Carrie Kish


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  • Carrie, what a cool way to start off your blogging here… With a big bang! I love your vulnerability in this post! Many of us wear these masks and we become unaware of them after a while either because we get accustomed to them or because we get addicted to how people treat us when we wear certain masks.

    It takes courage to take off those masks because the only thing left after is the real us and having to accept the effect our authentic self can have on people. The hard part after that is deciding what we accept of ourselves and what we need or want to change.

    The great thing about our triad is that we give one another the opportunity to be ourselves without the masks. I believe I speak for David as well when I say we are here to support you however you need it!

  • A great example of “naked leadership!” I appreciate your journey and the courage and power in you sharing it. Interestingly I’ve been listening to a recording of “corporate poet” David Whyte “When The Heart Breaks” and he speaks to exactly what you are expressing. He uses poetry and narrative to describe the “conversations” we find ourselves drawn into when instead we want to “turn sideways into the light” and disappear. He speaks of the journey that reflects our authentic self. The journey that you have taken on. I’m currently up to the part he calls “your work shouldn’t break your heart.” Instead you can be challenged to continually grow, with the awe and wonder of child, and continuously be reminded of the amazing gift it is to be alive.

  • Thanks, Guys! Thank you for your encouragement and for being a safe place for me to explore all this. Leaders create safety through vulnerability and courage. You both do that for me.

    David, I love “your work shouldn’t break your heart.” The only part of my work that was breaking my heart was wearing “sensible shoes.” All part of the mask that I thought I needed to wear to fit in. So, I’m donating the sensible shoes to Single Mother’s Outreach (one of my favorite local charities). It’s a way of liberating myself from that particular mask.