Seven Secret Success Strategies for Identity Change
One of the hardest things in life is accepting the end. It could be the end of life where I witnessed my late mother being told she was going to die. She literally gave up the fight against bile duct cancer accelerating her passing on the 1st December 2015. Then theres accepting the very thing you loved no longer being possible. Any attempt would either result in serious injury or death…
What have you lost? What emotional reactions did you experience?
It is these momentous experiences that live long in the memory. I remember the day when I walked down the hospital corridor to the consultants room. I had just undertook a range of tests for my heart. However, my own account as vivid as it seemed was full of illusions and distortions. Upon recalling my mental imagery, my father explained that the room was not as I had come to believe.
For some reason I imagined the room to be far bigger with an aisle, two sets of chairs on either side, ironically holding similarities to a modern day chapel as I walked to meet my maker. I only remember my entrance not my exit, the pale lime green cushioned chairs with wooden frames, and what I believed to have been a surgical bed on the lefthand side. Now, my fathers version made the room appear far smaller, just two chairs at the front of the room, the tanned wooden desk, and the consultant of asian decent sitting behind it.
When life-changing news is hurled towards you is it any great surprise that your imagination runs wild? Have you experienced your mind spiralling out of control? What happened?
I began to drown in my own thoughts, my heart thumping hard against my chest, and a deadly silence ensued as the pale magnolia walls closed in. “Can I die from this?”, I asked as the words rang through to my core. I watched in disbelief as her mouth uttered the words “Yes” whilst still moving without sound.
I was in my own world, the ice cold sweat trickling down the back of my spine, feeling dizzy and feint, I was delivered the knockout blow. My ears unblocked… as I heard the consultant, “You can no longer play rugby again”, I wondered if this was temporary but she meant NEVER again! No strenuous exercise, gym, weight lifting, nothing! My world, my identity, and all I had ever known ended excruciatingly within 24 hours.
How have you coped with similar loss? What have been your biggest challenges? How did you confront the challenges that you experienced?
Losing ones identity reminds me of the movie Face/Off with John Travolta and Nicholas Cage who swap faces whilst still in the physical realms of their own bodies. It is a great analogy for how I and I imagine others felt when looking in the mirror after such life-changing trauma.
Mentally your brain still feels like it can push the physical limitations, your mindset does not change and for some this can be extremely dangerous. (Read my previous blogs about my friend and ex pro footballer Mitchell Cole).
Acceptance is tough when feeling in full control of your life’s path. Many questions rise to the surface as you try and get to grips with the lost that you have experienced. The main question for most is “Who am I?” as the uncertainty of who you are and what you can do in the world in which you now live and exist add to the melting pot of frustration, anger, and confusion.
Fear of the unknown can be agonising as you long to hold on to that part of your life that not only you recognise but others have come accustomed to associating your very being. Changing that perception is like undoing all the hard work, sweat, blood, and tears that you invested to be the person that stands before you today.
Denial of what has happened only serves to fuel the emotional explosion when the ticking time bomb of acceptance around your life-changing trauma surfaces through the darkness.
Let me make it clear… this is not the same as retirement! Yes, it hurts and those feelings of loss and boredom can easily take hold. Opportunities to question oneself and the search for meaning and purpose in ones life can even bubble away yet it is hugely different and incomparable to sudden life-changing trauma.
Even in high performance sport where the career span is extremely short in comparison I fail to have empathy. Athletes have huge amounts of support within professional academies and first team environments that preparation for retirement is often discussed. Such work should allow for a smooth transition when that end comes but individuals rarely believe it will either happen or see it as an unnecessary distraction until too late.
We have no luxury of a safely net or immediate support when that gigantic explosion occurs… Its sudden, its heartbreaking, and savage. Not only is it your identity that you struggle to accept and the “new normal” but relationships can be exposed for what they were.
My own diagnosis coincided with my partners (at the time), mother passing from Ovarian Cancer and as much as I tried to be there for her I had my own inner demons to fight. My own reactions were pretty cold as I battled with my old identity and who I had become. Rather than be there as the emotional safety blanket that she longed for I was busy trying to hold on to what I believed was normal and what I perceived as “rugby culture”, drinking, partying, and flirting with women.
Unless you have been in my shoes it really is impossible to fully grasp the magnitude of emotions that you experience and I am guessing that some people reading this are probably thinking “what a bastard, she just lost her mum…” I too did not think highly of myself and whilst my behaviour was inexcusable my whole life had been turned upside down.
I no longer knew who I was, what my meaning and purpose now were in this lifetime, whilst struggling to accept that I was not the person I once believed myself to be having displayed traits mirroring indestructible, mentally tough, and a high degree of self-confidence. I was now anything but and I had nowhere else to turn…
If you reflect back to my previous blogs you will know that I had thoughts around suicide and wishing I had died rather than survived yet I am still here! So what changed? How did I cope with identity change and align myself to the new normal?
My journey has been the toughness path that I have taken to date. It was traumatic, lonely, and excruciatingly painful as it did not take much to hit reverse and for my world to cave in once more. Even the smallest and most trivial things would set me spiralling into a tornado fuelled by anger and frustration. Yet I have battled through and been resilient in climbing back up the slippery slope time and again.
So what is the secret formula?
Unfortunately there is no one shoe fits all. Everyones personal circumstances vary enormously but certain similarities seem to ring true for people I have spoken with and during my doctorate research investigating “the psychological implications of career ending health conditions and injuries in high performance sport”.
Here are my top 7 short success strategies for identity change that worked for me personally:
1. You must recognise and accept your limitations as all the bullshit that sounds catchy and hooks us into believing we can live a life without limits is complete and utter nonsense. It is about pushing the boundaries of your limitations beyond what you believed you were capable as we all have our limits but people choose to play safe for fear of failure, having an excuse mindset, and or lacking self-belief in themselves. Sorry to burst the fairytale bubble!
2. Like the British Telecom (BT) advert alluded to in their tagline “Its good to talk”, it is simple but exquisitely put. I was someone who isolated myself and being locked in your own thoughts and emotional trauma can be a very dark, lonely, and distressing place to be. Do not talk to just anyone as that is also pointless. Talk with someone you can relate and resonate with, theres plenty in our community for a start
3. Vulnerability is actually a strength and not a weakness. Yes, coming from an ex rugby player who believed not so long ago that dealing with situations alone was best is hard to comprehend. If I cried, became emotional, and/or confided in another around my true feelings and emotions it would expose me as weak and fragile.
Please do not make the same mistake and accept that it makes you stronger as a person to reveal your true and authentic self. Vulnerability is part of being human. Rolling with the punches that life throws at you takes far greater strength and resilience than hiding away.
4. Look in depth around who you are together with the knowledge and skills you have acquired over your lifetime. It could be values that you can constantly hang your hat on such as determined, resilient, and having a growth mindset.
Three great examples jump to mind:
a). Billy Monger the 17 year old Formula 3 Racing Driver who had both legs amputated not only learnt to walk again but is back in the car and aiming for Formula 1 stardom.
b). Henry Fraser who was left paralysed in a freak diving accident whilst on holiday now makes his living as a mouth painter producing exceptional pieces of art.
c). Lastly, Matthew King, the former London Broncos rugby league player who broke his neck and became paralysed, not only learnt to ski, complete the New York Marathon, but gain a first class honours law degree gaining a job with a top London Law Firm as a Solicitor.
How many of you are saying “Yeah but thats them its not me?”
We all have transferable skills it is just a question of how much do you want it…? How badly do you want to change and start living life, an awesome life even after life-changing trauma?
Look deep within yourself and the switch to those lightbulb moments will start to trigger as you begin to raise an awareness of your expanded and ever evolving self.
5. Using service professionals such as Life Coaches or Psychologists can ignite a deep self-awareness through the power of conversation. These are no ordinary conversations but detailed, challenging, and insightful dialogue about who you are as a person, what you stand for, what are your life goals, and how will you achieve them.
I use coaching to unravel the bowl of spaghetti that is in my mind into coherent form, unlocking new perspectives, ideas, and a deeper level of understanding about who I am in the process. Yes, Coaches cost money but money saves time, and time is what makes you money. If being financially secure is not your thing then investing in yourself is the best investment you could ever make as “knowing thyself” is the best route towards that elusive source of happiness.
6. Join a community of people who are of like-mind and experience. Insights from others provides a lifetime of learning at absolutely no cost. You do not even need to find these people. There is a vibrant community with people in exactly the same boat as yourself waiting to listen, learn, and grow from your own personal experience. Knowing you are no longer alone and resonating with others who are either going through or have been through similar heartbreak can be liberating irrespective of the actual cause. Step inside Class of Courage to find out the things we can do to jumpstart your life to the next level
7. Build your self-belief through hearing inspirational stories from others who have experienced the most horrific life-changing trauma. Surround yourself with like-minded people who have an impenetrable determination to leave a legacy rather than be defined by their life-changing trauma and other peoples perception of what you can and cannot achieve.
Changing ones identity does not come with a magic wand but with painstaking personal determination, support from family, friends, and an incredible community of people who are of like-mind and experience. The most important ingredient is ultimately the personal investment that you invest into yourself to skyrocket you towards “Finding your new awesome” and “Supercharging your future”.
My personal journey is testament to how far I have come yet I will never be the finished article as there is a world of learning and growth to be had. What I can say is that I am far more at peace within myself and my “new normal”.
I have the inner strength and skills to detach my mind from the negative messages that fly through on a day to day basis. Instead of being distracted my ability to remain present in the here and now is paramount as I look to take you on an accelerated journey to “Finding your new awesome”.
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