"So, what do you do?"
The dreaded question. The question that would sometimes keep me from wanting to meet new people and go new places. I can't tell you how many times over the last 14 years I've stressed over my answer to this question.
When someone asked me this question, what I'd hear in my head was, "So, WHO are you?" In my mind, what I did was who I was. It was my identity.
Early on it was simple for me. I taught. I was a teacher. Then I got married. I was a wife. Then I had babies. I was a mom. Nice, clean, acceptable answers to the question, "So, what do you do?" People know what a mom, a wife and a teacher do. These were my identities.
It eventually became a little more complicated in my mind because I'm a woman who loves to DO a lot of things. The short-list from the last 10 years includes ...
- literacy consulting
- selling Southern Living and Norwex
- selling supplements for multiple companies
- co-creating nourishMD, my first online business
- starting the non-profit Get REAL for Kids with Dr. Sue McCreadie
- teaching workshops and classes on kids' health and nutrition and parenting
- blogging and being on TV and radio talking about nutrition
- creating a highly successful online program and working with NY Times Best Seller Jordan Rubin and leading online health guru Dr. Josh Axe
- co-creating this beautiful platform and community at The Nourish to Flourish Society with Jill
- co-creating our highly successful 14-Day Reset
I've loved doing such a variety of things but I'd often find myself creating all kinds of stories and judgement in my head about how people must see me as 'flaky', jumping around from one thing to another, never having a conventional role or job or identity. It would often bother me and I'd catch myself not only avoiding the dreaded question, I'd try to come up with an answer to that question that felt like it would be acceptable and I'd rehearse it over and over in my head, trying to make myself sound more 'together'.
Along with this, for a long time I carried around the identity of being someone who is depressed after spending a week in the hospital a few decades ago because of depression. Even when I hadn't been depressed for years I had a hard time letting go of that identity.
Then there's the identity of being a healthy person. This identity has been reinforced over the years by so many people who also equate what we do with who we are, which means whenever I've eaten or done something that people think doesn't align with the 'healthy person' identity, I tend to be on the receiving end of looks and comments and jokes.
It took me a long time to realize that what I do and how I think about my self is not necessarily who I am and that even if it is the way I am seen, it doesn't mean I can't change that identity.
The transformation started when I was talking with a friend and made a bit of a joke about how people must think I'm crazy for doing so many different things all the time. This friend who had known me for a long time said, "I don't see you that way at all, Angelle. I see you as someone who is passionate about a lot of things and good at a lot of things and as someone who loves to learn. I admire how you change and evolve."
That was a big reframe for me. It led me down a path of learning a lot about identity and the way we as people - especially as women - see ourselves. And how we see ourselves then often ends up defining how we think and talk about ourselves as well as how we act.
For example, I had a coaching client whose identity was that she was sick and weak. Although she didn't like this, she seemed to be tied to it. While it's true that she had had a few challenging years with her health, when we explored this together through coaching sessions, she was able to remember that she had seen herself as a strong, healthy woman prior to this season in her life. She had begun to identify herself as being sick and weak more recently, which led her to then act in ways that were associated with someone who was sick and weak. This in turn led to her family acting like she was sick and weak. She hated this identity, but she felt stuck with it.
Once she was able to notice and name it for what it was, we worked together to help her reframe her identity to being that of a strong and wise woman who is in the process of getting healthier; a woman who could think of herself this way and make decisions that supported the identity she really desired. When she did this, her family started to interact with her more like the strong, wise woman she knew herself to truly be and she started to identify herself with it more and more.
What I've learned for myself, from this client and through working with so many other women, is that if we stay attached to an identity that doesn't serve us then we are stuck in what Stanford psychologist and author of Mindset Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset. She writes that...
"A 'fixed mindset' assumes that our character, intelligence and creative ability are static givens which we can't change in any meaningful way."
When we have this fixed mindset, aka identity, about ourselves -- whether it's that 'I am bad because I make bad food choices.' or 'I am a worrier who will always have anxiety.' or 'I am hard worker and I can't take time to take care of myself.' -- we then make decisions that reinforce that very identity we don't love. Why? Because it keeps us feeling safe and comfortable. We may not love who we are, but at least we know who we are and so does everyone around us. We worry that if we change, lots of feelings will come up that challenge us and that people around us will challenge us. It feels risky and unsafe.
What Dr. Dweck found in all her research is that people who instead have or learn to have a growth mindset, are so much happier and enjoy life more. With a growth-mindset, we realize that we can choose action over identity. We can do things to learn and grow and think about ourselves differently. There is no failure; only feedback. We can make decisions that get us 'unstuck' from the idea that what we do is who we are and there's nothing we can do about it.
This work around identity has helped me reframe how I see myself and how I answer the question about what I do. I am a woman who is multi-passionate with a skill-set for listening to people and helping them get clear on what they truly want for themselves. I am a woman who is in the process of cultivating the life I truly want for myself and for my family. I am a woman who loves to experience pleasure in food and movement and connection. I am a woman who loves to experiment in my life and learn new things and try a lot of them out, knowing some are a right fit for me and some not so much; and none of it's failure.
So, how do I answer the question 'So, what do you do?'? Well, I've learned that it just depends on the situation and who's asking. Sometimes the answer is, "I help women get really clear on how they want to be and feel in their lives and then coach them to cultivate more of that." Other times it's, "I'm a wife to an awesome man and mom of three teenagers." And, now that I've added Realtor to my list (did I mention that I got my real estate license last fall?!), sometimes my answer is that "I help people buy and sell homes with more ease and fun."
My invitation to you is this: Notice what identity you are attached to that doesn't serve you; it doesn't work for you and you're ready to let it go? Once you've noticed and named it, decide to reframe it for yourself. If it feels too hard at first to say "I am a woman who..." because the new identity doesn't feel authentic yet, then use this trick and say, "I am a woman who is in the process of becoming ...." AND then begin to make decisions that reinforce that new identity for yourself, even if those decisions feel hard at first.
xo from this *future* author and yoga teacher (yep, those are things I plan to do too!)