Identity.

September 24, 2022

Identity.

May 29, 2023

I’m co-leading a retreat and one of the participants strolls up to me and says, “Oh, Denise, yes, you’re a psychologist.”

I paused. It’s been a while since I’ve been defined by my profession. It feels so limiting.

As I sat outside my tent the next morning, watching the rising sun, I looked at the trees and realized I identify far more with the natural world. It’s why I love doing my nature-based work. I’ll soon complete my apprenticeship as a Vision Quest Guide and, if I’m introduced by that title, it will lead to an expanse of questions I can ask in response to their inquiry.

Since age 60, I’ve been playing around with my new identity. The old title – career psychologist – no longer serves me well. Since then I’ve become single, studied for my doctorate, completed two vision quests and supported others through theirs. I’m also a mother, daughter, author …. And I’ve been open to new experiences from studying mythology to traveling solo in Nepal.

Many of us have found MEA because of being unsettled. Realizing that we are at a transition point. Moving from the old to the new and spending time in the ‘messy middle’ is not a stage we need to rush through. Whilst as young adults we hurry, in many cases, to get our life sorted and to start on a career, by the time we reach midlife we want to savor more of what we do, and a slower approach can lead to a deeper connection with ourselves.

As we start to think of life after full time work, whether it be a traditional retirement or a more flexible life, we may like to think about our new identity. When I work with retirees, they often tell me how they are unsettled, they don’t have the power they had as a senior manager/ leader and they feel lost as so much of their identity was tied up with their job. I’m reminded of a quote by Norman Schwarzkopf,

‘Seven months ago, I could give a single command and 541,000 people would immediately obey it. Today I can’t get a plumber to come to my house.’
- Retired US General Norman Schwarzkopf, November 1991

We can be in control of our identity – we can create the narrative – our story, and find the best way to get it out in the world. I could decide to dress more like ‘Bear Grylls’ or ‘Ray Mears’ and I sometimes wear my trekking clothes. I could talk more about my nature-based work, and refocus my online profiles. And I’m working on this.

I’ve started to describe myself as an Elder – I have the grey hair, and I’ve gained some wisdom – both knowledge and self-understanding through my lived experience. This includes understanding that the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I’m now more likely to listen more, and say less. MEA has been of great help as I transition to this aspect of who I am.

Dr. Denise Taylor, Chartered Psychologist and Vision Quest Guide, gained her doctorate at 64, researching how people can find meaning in life after full-time work. Author of 8 books including Find Work at 50+, her next book – Rethink Retirement will be out in 2023. Denise is a MEA online alum, and a Corazon member. https://denisetaylor.co.uk/

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