Originally published on Butterfly Mind, April 2016.
In my 9th of 10 years of being a stay-at-home-mom, I was antsy to add meaning to my life beyond the role of Mom. I had recently begun blogging, and I was in constant search of my identity.
We often identify ourselves by what we do: scientist, lawyer, Mom. I am a mother, but that is not everything I am. I struggled with this idea of defining our identity by what we do — our hobbies, our jobs, our roles in our relationships — rather than some essence of ourselves. At the same time, our actions do define us; thoughts and ideas and words evaporate when they are not made real through action.
After 9 years out of the workforce and in the home, it was hard to overcome Mom as my sole identifier. I felt cut off from the world, invisible, and my identity was dependent on others: mother to our children, wife to my husband. I felt disconnected from myself. Who would I be without my husband and our kids, without an identity relative to them?
During that summer of 2012, I soul searched. I thought deeply about who I was, what I wanted, where I wanted to go. I tried to look beyond what I do as being who I am. I read StrengthsFinder 2.0 to find my natural strengths; I figured out my Myers-Brigg personality type; I wrote haiku; I filled notebooks and published blog posts.
I can’t remember what inspired me to do so, but ultimately I wrote a personal mission statement in a 5 x 8 inch Moleskine.
I worked hard to develop my mission statement, and then I forgot about it. Two years later, I found myself employed by Automattic, the company that makes WordPress.com. When I was hired full time, I was paired with what we call a D’OH (Developing Our Happiness) buddy: a mentor who helps a new Happiness Engineer transition into the chaos and culture of working for a fully distributed company that doesn’t have managers, doesn’t have offices, and that trusts its employees to be self-driven.
In our early chats, my D’OH buddy, Simon Ouderkirk, asked me about my career dreams and how I would know if I was succeeding in vague goals like “I want to be better at this, I want to learn more about that.”
At one point he encouraged me to think about writing a personal mission statement.
“Oh! I did that a couple of years ago,” I told him. “I’ll see if I can find it.”
I dug out my old Moleskine and found this:
Inspire and facilitate movement towards our best selves through kindness, compassion, fun, personal stories, and writing.
When I looked at this mission statement after forgetting it, I stared at it in amazement. I had not only found a job doing the thing that was my personal mission — I support bloggers who are telling their stories, our company mission is to democratize publishing, and my title is Happiness Engineer, for Pete’s sake — but when I looked at my mission statement, I realized this is my identity.
An identity is both a mission and the action we take to fulfill it. An identiy is who we are in our hearts and minds, and it is also what we do in the world, whether that doing is a paid occupation or not.
My personal mission statement encapsulates what I do and who I am, and it tells me the path I need to stay on to fulfill my deepest needs and be my best self. It feels true and right.
This moment of self-discovery, of finding my identity, was pivotal. I rarely struggle now with defining who I am. And now that I know my mission, I can use it to guide my action not only in my personal life, but also as I navigate my career. I refer to it when I feel lost, when I need to make decisions, when I wonder if I’m on the right path. And so far, it has not steered me wrong.
This was inspired by the Daily Post Discover challenge: Identity.