Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Identity Crisis

It’s been almost 2 years since we moved down to the US Virgin Islands, and I think saying that there’s been a lot of change in my life is a major, major understatement.  Frankly, besides still having Kevin and my 2 dogs in my life, nothing is the same as it was.  It’s been an overwhelming whirlwind of emotions, experiences, frustrations and personal growth unlike any other time in my life.

Culture shock aside, the hardest part of this experience for me has been letting go of my professional life in Chicago.  Now that I’ve been living down here for a couple of years, I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but my identity was entirely wrapped up in my career.  It wasn’t just a job to me, it was my life.  It was what gave me the freedom to support myself in a lifestyle that was comfortable to me.  It gave me the independence I enjoyed so that I did not need to rely on others financially or personally.  It also made me feel really good about myself.  It gave me a lot of confidence, and I was proud of myself.  After all, I was doing what society, friends and family had always encouraged me to do throughout my entire life - work hard, make money, advance professionally.  Why wouldn’t I get caught up in it?  When I think about the influences I’ve had throughout my life and how much time, effort and energy I put into my job, it makes sense.  I defined myself by the work I did.

Couple this with the fact that the big city life can be demanding in a very materialistic way.  Everywhere you look there are nice cars, designer clothes, expensive condos furnished with gorgeous furniture, beautifully manicured women, hip bars and restaurants – the list goes on.  Of course, since I had the good job, I could keep up with all of this which only made me more wrapped up in things.

But, that lifestyle got to a point where I felt like I was missing something.  I felt that there had to be more to life than what I had at the time.  I was very restless with the idea that all that I had didn’t seem to be enough for me.  I wanted more out of life than working long hours and wearing designer clothes.  And, I had this nagging feeling that I wasn’t being the person that I truly was underneath all the hard bargaining and fast pace life of the city.  I didn’t feel like I was experiencing life.  I felt like I was just going through the motions – day in and day out.  It wasn’t enough.

It is for all of these reasons that I decided that moving to the island was a great idea.  It was our way to re-evaluate life and see how other people live.  We would be able to put less demands on ourselves and enjoy the world around us.  And, I have to admit that we have experienced just what we thought we would.  I have had more fun with Kevin since moving down here, then we did during the entire 4 years of our relationship prior to our move.  Quite simply, we enjoy life more than ever.  I’ve traveled the islands with Kevin.  I’ve developed interests in golf, photography, scuba diving, etc.  I’m healthier and more physically active than I’ve been since high school.  I have more girlfriends than I’ve had since college.  And, I’m not nearly as stressed-out and rushed on a daily basis.  In fact, right now it’s 10:45 am on a Wednesday, and I’m writing this blog at my kitchen table while looking out the (open) window over the ocean with the sun shining and the palm trees blowing.  Needless to say, it’s been all that I could have asked for.

But, I still have moments when I struggle to let go of the life and person I used to be.  At the risk of sounding dramatic, it has been a painful experience to give up my old life.  It’s like losing an old friend, or something.  All the safety and security of what was familiar is gone. 

In fact, for the first time since I was probably 15 I don’t have a job.  I’m unemployed.  The job that I had when I moved down here did not work out for me, and I really needed to take a step back to decide what I want from a professional perspective.  For a while I’ve thought I’d like to be an independent insurance agent, which I’m currently still looking into.  However, right now I’m substitute teaching at a local private school.  Let me just say that spending my day telling kids that ‘no, they cannot go to the bathroom’ and telling 7th graders to ‘quiet it down’ countless times is a gigantic change – worlds away from my prior life.  The other day, as I was reading to some pre-kindergarten kids, one of the girls in the front row gently touched my fingers and while I was reading whispered, ‘your fingernails are so soft’.  Flash back to three years ago and my day would have consisted of frantically running around the office in a full-on suit and high heels, preparing for a presentation and/or answering an impossible number of emails and phone calls.  How’s that for a whirlwind?

So, I’ll fully admit that I’m going through a complete identity crisis.  There have been tearful days of disappointment and total confusion, and other days of utter boredom.  I have to give Kevin a lot of credit for all of his patience because sometimes I’m just not sure what mood I’ll be in from one moment to the next.  And, I’ve come up with the most ridiculous ideas of what I should do next.  For example, one day I told Kevin that I was thinking of working at a flower shop, which is great, but I kill every plant I touch, and I don’t know a peony from a petunia.  So, he’s been an incredible source of support and encouragement. 

I should also say that the people on the island that know me and know that I’m not working have also been very supportive.  They don’t really care.  I mean, they care about me, but they don’t care about what I do for a living, or what car I drive, or the clothes I wear.  Those things aren’t on the list of an islander’s priorities – well, most islanders.  Most of the islanders I know just want to see if you’d like to go golfing or boating this weekend.  To me, this makes life easier to figure out, and it’s given me the space and time to move closer and closer to decide what I’d like to do with my life while we are here.

I know that it was my decision to turn my world around with this move, and I’m confident that I’ll find a professional path down here that I’ll enjoy.  However, more than ever, I realize that life is all about trade-offs and this was a big one for me, so what I choose as a career doesn’t seem as important to me as it used to.  I know I need to find something, but I don’t think I need to have my entire focus and identity dedicated to my job anymore.  That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from all of this, and I’m glad that I have discovered this so early on in life.  My life will be better because of it.


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