This week I left my job. Something most of us have done at some point, but this time it wasn’t just the job I was saying goodbye to. I left my role as a housing professional after 25 years, and it has taken time to get my head around that!

I knew I was nervous to leave behind the world of employment with its safety net of a regular salary and associated benefits, but beyond those practical considerations, there was a deeper concern at play. One that was more enmeshed in my vision of who I was.

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Personal identity is how we see ourselves. We create this sense of self from a complicated set of interrelated physical, psychological, and interpersonal characteristics which sit within the social environments that we are born, grow and live in. We each belong to many overlapping groups, like our ethnicity or religion, and we adopt roles from our society and culture1. These factors weave together to create a unique mosaic that we call ‘ourself’.

This identity lends us a coherent sense of self over time. As we develop we start to collect stories about who we are, our values, what we want to achieve and what society expects of us. The more aware we are of these components the easier it is to make choices that align to our likes and dislikes. When we know what motivates us and what we stand for we can be consistent in these guiding principles. This in turn promotes better relationships, both with ourselves and with others, because we have this cohesive blueprint to base decisions on.

Growth and Change

My career weaves its way through my sense of self. It adds an important dimension to how I see myself. I was so excited about my new career path that I didn’t realise until well into the process that there would be a need for letting go and to grieve the old. I hadn’t appreciated how key my job was to my identity. It was a place where I felt experienced, that gave me a sense of accomplishment and aligned with my values.

Stepping into the new can also be uncomfortable. It felt natural to say ’I work in social housing’ but telling people ‘I’m a coaching psychologist’ or ‘I run my own business’ was harder to explain. It was not something I fully recognised as ‘me’ yet.

Fear of the new is normal but if ignored we can end up giving in and going home, putting the brakes on transformation. Practicing a growth mindset, that is the belief that with effort our abilities can grow over time, helps us along the path. We can evolve, learn and develop. It keeps us curious and excited about life which in turn makes us flexible, resilient and optimistic for the future, confident that we have the skills to navigate change successfully.

Staying Aware

Being kind to myself, I recognise this is a process and it will feel uncomfortable to start with. My old identity was a safety blanket, as familiar as a favourite pair of jeans, but this change holds a lot of useful lessons. Forgotten insecurities rear their heads like weeds giving me an opportunity to understand myself better and explore some of the shadowy aspects that love to hang around like long-lost friends!

We adopt many of our strategies for dealing with life and relationships at a very young age. Being in beginner mind with my business allowed me to observe some of my approaches with greater clarity and question their accuracy and usefulness. If it doesn’t align then maybe it is time to start forming some new beliefs.

This is the process we support clients with and so an excellent opportunity for embodied practice and to learn from my own experience.


Much of our early identity is taken from the expectations of the society and family we are born to. As we develop we seek to align to our more authentic selves and not an off-the-shelf version of who we think we should be.

I started to reframe my career change, not as a loss of identity but as a closer reflection of myself. As I let go I can attach more securely to the values that underpinned my decision to work in social housing in the first place. Values of equality, support and connection, tinged with a healthy dose of curiosity and playfulness. These are all central to me and how I am as a coach.

One Self From Many Selves

As spring arrives, there are a range of cards on my mantelpiece that hint at the patchwork from which my identity is drawn. Mother’s Day cards, a thank you from a friend, an Easter card from an old friend’s grandson, and leaving cards from colleagues. They remind me I am more than one thing and that this evolves with time too.

If we think of identity as a garden, there is an overall scheme created from the different plants and flowers. Some came with the garden, others we planted ourselves. There is space for the cultivated and the wild. And as we age, we find the richer the variety, the greater the life it can support. We can become a place where butterflies can flourish.



APA Dictionary of Psychology (UPDATED 4/19/2018)

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