To have your normal life rhythm interrupted: it is nothing short of disorienting.
All the places you went, the activities you did, the work you accomplished – they were your rhythm, your confidence. They fed your identity.
But now those external identity anchors are suddenly gone. You might find yourself lost. Unmoored.
You might find yourself like me.
It wasn’t my plan to have kids, especially at the interval I did. I was, at the time, forging ahead in my professional life, striving to achieve nothing short of perfection every day, focusing only on my performance. Did I mention that my identity was in perfection and achievement?
Each and every maternity leave was hard for me. As in excruciating hard. My perfectionist self couldn’t mom perfectly. I didn’t have the visible success I was used to. I struggled with post-partum. And we lived farm rural, as in 30 minutes from the closest gas station, which was not comfort for this city girl.
Isolation. Serious life change. Health imbalance. A now irrelevant definition of success.
My identity was shook.
I felt like a dandelion puff lost in a windstorm. There was nothing to anchor my day.
I had to figure it out. Because the aimless, grieving, disconnected loneliness was not a good way to live.
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I went through the long, painful process of detoxing the parts of my identity that I constructed to make something of myself, and let myself see what I actually needed to be whole. I learned to write for mental health. And then I found my priorities.
Emotional health. Physical health. Intellectual health. Environmental health. Spiritual health. This is what I needed. Not an endless cycle of being really good at my job.
I made myself an anchor, a checklist of sorts to make sure I felt connected, thriving and whole each week. It was based on what I actually need to feel like an efficacious human, derived from my heart priorities. Gratitude, connection, God.
This dandelion puff needed a patch of ground to land on before she shrivelled completely and died.
Planning: Finding Priorities
Every Sunday I would fill in for the upcoming week what I would focus on.
I prioritized time with God, connection with friends, connection with my husband, gratitude, and exercise.
I wrote a to-do list for the week, like doctor appointments and bills. I googled a little craft for the girls to do one day. I wrote down the project I was working on that needed more than a week of time, like a family photo album. I noted the books I was reading.
And as the week went by, I would color in when I vacuumed or exercised. I checked off when I accomplished something.
I wrote down over the person bubbles who I connected with that week. Because we lived so rural and I had to work around a million little people’s nap schedules, it was often a phone call.
Like our situation now.
That intentional connection with people was critical to reclaiming my humanity and self-efficacy. The Dalai Lama says we actually can’t be human without others. Neuroscience agrees. So does Jesus.
This anchored me. It allowed me some buoyancy in the isolation that not long ago felt like drowning.
Execution: Grace-filled flexibility
Through the weeks I started to slowly unravel my identity from accomplishment. If I didn’t vacuum twice, oh well. If I didn’t exercise three times, I could see right there the two times that I did.
If my whole to-do list didn’t get done (which was always), I would move tasks to the next week. Rather than feeling like a failure for something undone, I could see the checkmarks to prove that lie false.
I no longer had to be perfect at my schedule or aspirations.
Family is dynamic. Being around little people is unpredictable. Concussions, infections and moods happen. Frequently. And I am l learning that even if I don’t check all the boxes on my to-do list, I’m not a failure as a mom.
The buoyancy of my family, based on the anchoring of myself to a real, worthwhile, whole, realistic identity, is worth more than all the productive checkmarks in the world.
Constructing your identity externally by what you do rather than who you are is a foundation of sand.
This is where we are at with social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine. Some people are really not doing so well. In fact, mental health is the next predicted crisis as a result of this isolation.
I couldn’t, and can’t, perform my way through motherhood.
Just like we can’t hustle harder to overcome this virus.
I had to learn to be okay with myself apart from achievement.
Just like we have to rest our way through a government mandate.
So let’s learn to rest. Let’s learn to be. Let’s untangle our identity from our productivity. Have the courage to dream again. Give yourself freedom to find a new normal.
Let your striving for identity rest. Rather, anchor your soul on wholeness instead of productivity.
- Accept this season is different than the one that abruptly ended
- Decide your priorities
- Decide what you need each week to feel balanced
- Write it out (or freely borrow mine) to anchor your week
- Give yourself grace
- Welcome identity transformation
- Be grateful for less hustle and enjoy the season
I wish you all the best. Let me know how your new journey of anchoring yourself in isolation goes!