Our identities

I was on a zoom call with a friend last week: “What’s the point??” Harlen proclaimed, pointing at a closet full of suits, shoes, and accessories he’d spent years accumulating. The insinuation being, of course, that these items no longer served a purpose, now that we’re connecting through computer screens, and walks at a distance in the park.

The thing is, though, we could pull out the suits for the zoom calls; the heels for the grocery store run; the bag for the walk through the park. So why don’t we?

It left me wondering: did we buy these things because we love them for ourselves, or did we buy (and wear) them because of what they represented? Or how they would be perceived by others? Or because it was expected of us?

Have we all been putting on costumes that we were really only wearing for other people?

This pandemic has us taking a different, new, and real look at ourselves: who are we when our traditional work identities, structures and routines are stripped away?

Our Expectations

Our ways of experiencing the world have shifted on all levels: how we work, how we socialize, how and where we eat, how we consume. The gap between our expectations for how we go about our daily lives and our reality is more of a chasm than a gap. And we have no idea when it will be over. Cue the hamster wheel monkey brain of anxiety.

The pandemic is forcing us to see our reactions under a new kind of stress: who are we when our expectations are blown apart by uncertainty on a global scale? No matter how hard we try to ‘think’ ourselves out of our current reality, we’ll find our thoughts running in circles because, the truth is: we simply don’t know how and where this will all land.

Our Personalities

Patterns that have been with us since childhood – coping mechanisms, stress strategies – become our go-to. Some of us might be embracing and advocating for rules and routines; some of us might be worst-case scenario planning; some might be finding the silver lining; while others find themselves withdrawing into solitude, or attempting to push through and confront the discomfort and challenge head on.

This pandemic often has me tempted to go on auto-pilot, and tap into stress responses that have followed me through my entire life: withdrawing, reflecting, writing and escaping in books. I’ve had to ask myself repeatedly: are these responses really serving me? Sometimes the answer is yes. But, often, if I’m honest, the best thing is often the opposite of what the auto-pilot response of my personality would have me do. Sometimes, what I really need is to get outside, hike through the forest, sit at a safe distance on the front porch with a long-time friend and chat about everything and nothing.

This pandemic may be asking all of us: what patterns and auto pilot ways of being is it time to let go of?

On my morning walks in Toronto these days, where the season is changing and the forest trees are in their full colour glory, I watch the leaves glide from their home branches to the ground, gently and gracefully letting go, and I’m reminded that I – we – too, might be being called to gently, and gracefully, let go of what is no longer serving us as well.

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