Who am I

Who Am I?

Who am I? Who am I now? I’m Between “ Who I Was ” And “Who I Want To Be”.

I’ve been talking recently with a client who I’ll call Robert. A bright guy who’s moved way up in the high tech industry.

But he’s not a happy camper. For a few years now, he’s been thinking of getting out, shifting to his first love: he wants to see if he can make a career out of being a crossword puzzle writer. He’s written puzzles, had some success getting them published. But could he make a go of it, full time? Would it really satisfy him?

It’s quite a change. He knows he’s not there yet, not ready to make the break from the “golden handcuffs” of his current work. At the same time, he knows he’s headed in that direction. And he knows that it takes time. And effort. Effort to stay with living in the unknown. Contemplating change. (For more on the process of change, I highly recommend an oldie but goodie, Changing for Good by Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente.


So who is he? Who is he now?

He’s between “ Who He Was ” and “Who He Wants To Be” , more correct between selves.

Here are some other examples. As with Robert, details have been changed to protect their privacy:

  • There’s Florence ( as I’ll call her ), who wonders if her most recent ACL injury will jeopardize her skiing career;
  • Or Stephane, a business executive who couldn’t pass up a lucrative buyout. She’s now trying to figure out what’s next;
  • Or Andrei, who—yet again—lost an audition he was sure he’d nailed.

        Each of these people—well, all of us at one point or another or another, whether it’s related to work or health or activities or relationships—is dealing with being “between selves.”

Imagine two large hills, one on each side of a river. On one side is your old self, who you were BEFORE. On the other hill is your new self, who you are going to become, AFTER. At various times in our lives, we are neither the old, known, familiar self nor yet the new, untried, person who we’re going to become.

Instead, we are swimming in the river. We may be splashing, floundering, or swimming strongly as we move from one side to the other. We are between selves.

The concept of being between selves isn’t new. Sociologist Robert Weiss used this phrase while researching the experience of adult couples who had recently separated. (His book, Marital Separation, another oldie but goodie, offers vignettes of the stresses, challenges, and exhilarations at the end of these relationships.)

Expanding the concept to different times of change in our lives can be helpful. Just being able to label this experience and this process—“I am between selves”—offers comfort and is therapeutic in and of itself. It recognizes process and change. It allows for self-forgiveness for at least some of the uncertainty involved in change. It gives temporary identity to the person whose identity is so very disrupted.

As people walk—or run or are shoved—down the metaphoric hill of their old self, there comes a point where it actually feels impossible to climb back up. Who I am now no longer can be who I was. And yet….who will I become? What parts of who I was will come with me on this journey? Which parts do I want? What do I wish to discard? What have I learned about me?

While swimming in the river, can I find an occasional rock on which to rest, to pause, to assess how far I’ve come? Do I get tangled up in odd (old) tree branches or stub my toes on lurking sharp-edged stones? Does a white water eddy swirl me in the wrong direction? Do I need to float on my back for a while or just find some temporary water wings? How do these experiences inform my progress?

That other hill, the new me, may seem far away. Beginning to climb its banks may seem extraordinarily challenging. Meanwhile, it’s vital to let myself swim between selves, reflecting, anticipating, being in the murk. Who I will become—at least for now—will emerge.

And so, back to Robert and his challenge. We’ve been using the swimming metaphor for a while now. Here’s what he says:

            “I’m trying to be here for real. I’m trying not to say ‘yes’ to opportunities that I could agree to when I sense that they wouldn’t move me forward toward who I want to become.

         “The swimming part knows: Don’t take it! Don’t be a buyer right now. It feels weird. I don’t feel settled. I need—for now—to not feel settled.”

Robert has been writing in a journal; he’s been talking with me. His partner knows he’s working on this process. Mostly, he lets himself stand still, ask the questions, see what answers develop. It’s the hardest work that he’s done. He’s scared, but also excited and committed to this process.


How to Procrastinate With Purpose

Procrastination is the act of delaying a task in favor of doing something more enjoyable.

People value short-term rewards instead of long-term benefits, a behavior known as ‘time inconsistency”.

1. Everyone has ideas. Some are good, some are bad, few are amazing. Most are boring. But procrastinators tend to have the most amazing ideas. Their ideas are so awesome that they don’t even know how to get around to doing them. Some of them try it anyway.

2. Why do most procrastinators procrastinate? Because they don’t have a system. They have ideas about what they should do to put their ideas in order. But they don’t. They could start small and increment their progress bit by bit. But they don’t. They could plan their whole idea in detail, so it’s easy to understand, adapt and implement. But. They. Don’t!

3. Procrastinators only start working on ideas that feel good to them. Starting small doesn’t feel good, it feels average. Doing small stuff is average. Why would anyone even get out of bed in the morning to feel average, when they have the choice of feeling good? Of course, no idea feels good a while after they’ve started it and they run into various hurdles. So basically what they do is start full throttle and then stop after a while, after it stops feeling good. You know it, I know it, they know it. But they do it anyway. They do it for the high, because it feels good in the beginning.

4. What psychologists know, but most people don’t is that we sort feelings and emotions by grade, not recurrence. A happy moment that feels like a 9 on a 1-to-10 scale is WAY better than ten moments that feel like an 8. This is true for all feelings and emotions. Having your 10, or pet die feels way worse than getting bullied at school or bossed around at work.

5. Once procrastinators integrate points 1-4 into their own system, they stop procrastinating. Only by understanding why you do what you do, can you really find a solution fit for your exact need. Your system should include incremental progress and incremental gratification.

6. This is a huge paradigm shift that takes a lot of time to master. It involves moving from big ideas that are self-contained and can be good or bad, to ideas that are split into small steps that you don’t feel much of anything about in particular. Just remember that mastery can only be achieved by teaching others. I’m mastering it myself as I write to you, so don’t be hard on yourself. Start small, increment and improve.