It happens to everyone at some point. You come out of high school, get your first job, have a baby, get married or finish your professional sporting career.
When the time comes to build or take on a new identity, we often come to a crossroads in our life and invariably face some sort of identity crisis. I’ve been thinking about this lately as I work with quite a lot of athletes, some of whom are coming to the end of their careers and are contemplating what to do next. Some will drift into coaching, perhaps because they feel this is a natural progression, while others think about starting out on an own business venture. However, the transition isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s usually very hard. For one, the feeling of importance starts to fade and often goes away completely. As a high-level athlete, you always feel wanted and centre-stage, as your club or national team requires your services in order to get a result. Slowly but surely, however, younger, quicker, stronger players will come in and take your place in the team. You are forced either to step up your game, adapt, or slowly step aside.
To quote Heraclitus: “The only constant in life is change“. This now holds truer than ever before. There are no assured jobs, long-term relationships or successful businesses. In this generation, the people who will best be able to adapt to change and new circumstances and environments are the ones who will prosper. Our ability to reinvent ourselves will ultimately determine our fate and how content we are with our lifestyle.
This reinvention will be easier for some people, partly because of more favourable circumstances but more probably because they have better prepared themselves for the change. My personal experience perhaps provides a decent example. I was 24 and while still harbouring ambitions to play sport at the highest level, I was intrigued about what life beyond the changing room and football pitch could offer me. I was fortunate enough to have parents who promoted the value of education, and ended up getting a university degree. While I don’t think a degree is a pre-requisite to succeed later on in life (personally all I think it can provide is a system to filter information, independent critical thinking and a broader understanding of the world and its workings), it can lead you on the right path by eliminating what you DON’T want to do while adding to your skill set, which is ultimately what will determine what you will eventually be good at. The fact that I was able to find interest in things other than sport, which would eventually add value to my life (financially and intrinsically), helped me to reinvent myself and despite sometimes still being unsure of what my optimal vocation or profession based on my skill set, I have found that people skills and some form of personal interaction will represent the core of my work. After realigning my values and skill set with what I do, I know believe more firmly in the model of mentor and apprentice, whereby you find a mentor or several mentors in your chosen field of interest or profession, learning your trade through practice and applying, practising, repeating and thus gaining useful skills. No degree can ever prepare you for mastery of a certain art or skill. Rather, you have to earn it and pay your dues.
To anyone currently undergoing an identity crisis themselves, I would advise reviewing your values, relationships, personal characteristics and skills (and remember, EVERYONE has a set of skills, some of which may be more technical and some more soft, people-based skills). When you are able to move beyond the stigma that others attach to you due to your past actions and activities, you will be able to reinvent yourself and take the step on to a new path in life, one which may just be on the other side of the crossroads or one that will see you take a U-turn. Either way, the underlying principle to finding a new identity is self-belief and self-worth, that is, knowing that we each have something unique to contribute to the world.