The feelings of deep sadness, exhaustion and insecurity were not what I had anticipated feeling after selling my business.
In fact, all I could imagine was how free I was going to feel. During those initial months, there was nowhere I had to be, nothing to accomplish and no one expecting anything from me. This was exactly the reason I thought I would feel free to do whatever I wanted, to finally have the time for me that I had always yearned for.
Yet in reality, I felt completely lost.
Perhaps you have experienced something similar when you went through a divorce or made a career change, or after your children left for college or you retired from your life’s work.
Even though we may choose to make a change in our life, it doesn’t mean we don’t feel the effects of the loss of that structure.
The death of an identity is like the shedding of armor, which exposes the soft, tender, vulnerable places and opens the heart in ways we couldn’t have imagined without the loss.
Upon reflecting on the last time I experienced feeling lost, at age 27, I realized that the process of losing an identity at that time (also a career change) although excruciatingly painful, eventually led to more peace, clarity and magic than I knew was possible. It is clear to me then, that there is an emotional and spiritual rebirth that takes place when we let go of an identity.
This rebirth is essentially becoming who we are meant to be.
Any life transition means the loss of one thing in order to move into what is next. That loss must be grieved, felt and experienced in order to let go of it and be fully heart-open to embrace what’s next.
Moving through the waves of change develops a faith and trust that everything will be okay, that the universe will support and guide us. And yet when we are at our lowest of lows, trusting can be the hardest thing we will do. We want to feel better now. We search for a quick fix to feel better. We crave some way to not feel the gnawing fear—even terror—that can feel so overwhelming that it seems we will completely lose control.
My experience has been that losing control is exactly what I needed to do—to allow myself to be enveloped in uncertainty, to melt down into nothingness for a new version of me to emerge. If I fight and resist the pain of the loss, then I will get stuck there and I won’t allow the light of my soul to write the story of my destiny. If I keep holding on to what my ego fears that it won’t be or have anymore, I will be holding back the magic that is trying to be birthed.
If I allow my heart to open (even though it feels paralyzingly scary), I can fall in love with myself. This cannot happen if I am holding on to something I think I can’t live without.
Allowing myself to sink into the abyss is trusting that I am going to be all right. By letting go, I am allowing myself to be launched into a new experience of life with opportunities I could never have imagined. Opportunities that I wouldn’t have seen because my eyes weren’t focused.
I stand in a circle with all my former selves—I look around at the striving 26 year-old, the wife, the mother of a child at home, the daughter, the seeker, the store owner, the child needing approval, the teenager longing for acceptance, the friend, the listener and the healer—and my heart is full to over-flowing with gratitude. I tell my beloved selves that I’m moving on. I weep not for what they’ve gone through, nor for the pain they have experienced, I weep in gratitude to them for who I am today. I am who I am because of those previous versions of myself. I have not lost them. They remain within me as the many facets of my love.
I have found the true love that I have been waiting for my whole life.
The poet William Stafford’s simple question: “Who are you really, wanderer?”
Why not find out today?
In Finding Your Own North Star, author Martha Beck reminds us that many cultures value the times in our lives when we lose one identity and have yet to pick up another. Native Americans go on spirit walks. They leave their tribes and wander without knowing if they will ever make it back, and in that no man’s land, they encounter something magical. Those who return are barely recognizable. Only remnants of their former selves remain. Cleansed by a holy fire, this human metamorphosis is part of our journey.
I guess the only way to get there is to be stripped of identity and to learn to somehow be okay with not knowing who we are or where we are. It’s to be willing to strike out, nameless, faceless, and to give our all and have no idea of who we’ll be when it’s over and trust that whatever lessons needed to be learned were learned, and if not, they’ll come around again.
I recently watched Tom Hank’s 1995 film, Cast Away. Somehow I had never seen it. Towards the end of the film, Chuck (Tom Hanks) has miraculously made it back home after four years stranded on an island in the middle of the ocean. His life raft was a metal door that washed ashore. He is home but nothing is the same, most especially himself. He says to his dear friend: “And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”