Why basing our identity on our role could be holding us back…

As I grow older one of the most common things I’m asked when I meet new people is “what do you do?”

For over three years, my answer was “I’m a PhD student”. Although I knew that the course would come to an end, when it did I felt like I’d lost a part of my identity and I wasn’t sure what I “was” without my role and it felt pretty weird.

We live in a society that likes to label things, because as human beings we like order and we don’t like dealing with unpredictability. So it can be very tempting to define ourselves by our job title or role in life because it helps to tell others a little bit about the kind of person you are and it also helps to narrow down the decisions that we make on a day to day basis, to an extent.

Using language such as “I am a doctor”, “I am a lawyer”, “I am an athlete”… can sometimes lead us to define our whole lives by what we do rather than who we are.

For the most part we can bob along quite happily but the danger comes when we experience change or even if we decide we want to change something in our lives. We forget that we were not born “a lawyer” or “a mother” we were born as a blank slate. Ultimately we do all have our unique experiences that we’ve built up in our lives, but sometimes it can be difficult to remember that we have the choice to change our future. The labels that we give ourselves or that are handed out by society can sometimes become the reason that we don’t pursue different interests or dreams, as we feel limited to what we do regularly.

You might be asking is this really a problem? But what I would say is to try and observe your thinking for a little. Next time you have an idea or if you hear about something you’d like to do, just listen for the voice that gives you reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t do something. If you have thoughts like – I can’t do this because I’m too old, I’m not clever enough…or even thoughts such as “not many women have that role” this is likely to be your labelling at work. And whether you consciously know it or not, these judgements may be holding you back from positive growth.

So what can we do when or if we notice that we’re having these thoughts?

1. Listen 

Actively observe or listen to your thoughts when you’re thinking about doing something new. Write in your journal or diary about why you want to do something and ask yourself (if applicable) what you think is holding you back from doing whatever it is that you want to do. Where did this reason come from? What is this reason based on?

2. Don’t judge

If for example you come up some reasons that you feel are stopping you from pursuing your new idea or from applying for a role in a different sector, ask yourself “how would my life be different if I wasn’t afraid?” or “how would my life be different if I didn’t let this label stop me?”

3. Act

Write or think about how it would feel to follow this new idea…how would your life change? What would your world look like if you chose to go for it? Then ask yourself,

“What would it take for me to make this happen?”

Break that action down into smaller steps and ask yourself “what could I do today that would move me towards that goal?”

A few months on from finishing my PhD, I am enjoying finding out what ‘Dr’ Chrissy looks like and enjoying being able to choose my next steps after what felt like a loss of identity after finishing my course. I hope these tips can help anyone who is also going through a major change too.

I’d love to hear if you found this helpful or if you have any of your own tips for making positive changes in your life. Please get in touch 🙂


Chrissy x


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