I spent 43 years getting to know myself. During the last 10, my identity had developed nicely into "happily single, good daughter, smart business woman."
I really balked at becoming a "wife" because some of the stereotypes didn't appeal -- "housekeeper, cook, doer of laundry." Ick!
One of my smart girlfriends said, "Think about designing the relationship that's perfect for you," and so I set out to do just that. Getting crystal clear on the type of man that I wanted and how that life would work was the key to finding my perfect match. We met the old-fashioned way -- on the internet -- and got married exactly one year later.
But lo and behold, I still went through an identity crisis early on in our marriage.
"Who am I now?" I struggled to find out.
To make matters more interesting, I became a stepmom and grandmother on the day that I got married. (I'm called G-Ma because, at age 43, Gramma just felt too weird.)
One day, just a few months into my wedded bliss, I found myself sitting at the end of the bed in tears. Balling like a baby when my husband walks into the bedroom, "I don't know who I am anymore!" He calmly replies, "Well, who do you want to be?"
I thought about that and I decided to recommit myself to happiness -- something I had done prior to meeting John. Looking back, I saw that slowly, over time, I had taken my eye off that goal.
If we're not careful, our essence and identity can become absorbed by all of our titles: wife, mother, friend, daughter, employee, coach.
The key to maintaining your balance of self is simply focusing on what makes you happy.
By making yourself a priority, you don't get swept away in life's busy currents.
In the midst of my crisis, I asked myself "When was the last time I took a bubble bath or went to the movies or yoga?" My husband never stopped playing hockey or golf, but slowly, over time, I had given up a lot of things that I really enjoyed in order to spend more time with him. Ultimately, that needed to change.
It's easy to see why women with school-age children wake up one day and realize they are lost. There is no more important role than mother, and I am certain it can be all-consuming.
So whether you're a newlywed, a happy single, or a wife and mom, spend some time focusing on what will make you happy -- it's the best way to maintain your truest self.
Identity Checklist: 3 Steps to Maintaining Who You Are
Step 1. Ask yourself great questions. Rather than wallowing in "why me?"- type questions, allow your questions to empower you. A great question for this situation is "Who do I want to become?" Maybe you want to be a terrific mom, a valued friend and someone who works out three times per week, no matter how busy the schedule gets. If you know this, you can work toward it.
You may not like her politics, but Michelle Obama is a great role model for keeping up with fitness despite a busy calendar. And if she can do it, maybe you can, too.
Step 2. Determine what's missing. It's difficult to fix a problem if we don't stop to acknowledge what it is. My girlfriend Tina took the time to do this. After 10 years of marriage, she and her husband Tim adopted two little girls, ages 7 and 9.
Six months in, Tina could feel herself getting absorbed into the roll of "Mom," but she was determined not to give up her "me time." She schedules one afternoon a week where she does something for herself. And she joined a soccer league that played on the weekend and her husband and girls cheer her on from the sidelines. By putting herself first, she's teaching her girls a valuable lesson about self-worth!
Some things that might be missing are:
• Time with girlfriends (it's well-documented that women cope better with life's challenges when they have close girlfriends to confide in)
• Time to relax and self-soothe (i.e.: taking a bubble bath, going to the gym, doing yoga)
• Time to feed yourself spiritually (going to church, connecting with a group of like-minded women, meditation class)
• Time for sports (playing soccer, golf, tennis) getting into a league means you'll play on a regular basis.
Once you identify what's missing in your life, you can move to the next step.
Step 3. Take action. It may take some creativity and some juggling, but if you really put your mind toward moving your happiness up the list, you can make it happen. Placing your "me time" activity in your schedule makes it more real. And if it's on the page or in your phone, make it a rule to stick with it.
I never put hot yoga in my schedule for after 5 p.m., because I know if it's in the evening, I'll blow it off. I go in the mornings instead. By only putting things I know I'm going to do in my schedule, I take it more seriously.
Adopting even a few of these ideas can help you move into a strong sense of self and ultimately the best version of you. You'll be a great wife, mother, friend, daughter, employee, and, most important, YOU!