Losing our Identity like Grant Hackett

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The recent tragic story of our superstar swimmer Grant Hackett pushes us to realise the difficulty so many people experience when life changes.

While most of us are not Olympic athletes trying to reclaim a new identity and purpose in life, so many of us suffer from identity loss if we lose our job, are made retrenched or even retire.

Human beings need a purpose, and this is different to a goal. A goal is something specific we set ourself to achieve whereas a purpose is a reason for doing something, a reason to get up each morning and a reason to remain here as a living, functional person. Without a purpose we decline into a dark place, floundering like a fish out of water, feeling overlooked, useless and less worthy.

Like Grant Hackett, I ask, what is your purpose? If we can’t quickly answer that, then we may have a problem. If we need to search our mind too much then perhaps we really take notice and decide what our purpose is.

Many people may say their purpose is being the best parent they can be, the best Manager they can be or the best nurse or teacher. But what if you have no children or older children, what if you no longer work, what then?

Our purpose can be many things. The important point is to have one or maybe multiple. So many of us struggle to find our purpose. We see celebrities, sports people, friends on social media all of whom seem to have found their purpose and are actively undertaking it; but many ask, where is mine and how do I find it?

Often our purpose can be found in our passion. We all have one large or small. We may enjoy a specific thing, love speaking about a certain topic, have a deep interest in a particular area. This is how we start to locate our purpose.

Your heart is the best tool to access your true purpose and passion. When you are inspired and connected to something you enjoy and are passionate about, inspiration floods into your heart and soul. When we do what we love, we are motivated and uncover the joy within ourself, and this provides us with a purpose.

If we believe we only need one purpose, this may not be enough. It is the reason many get themselves into trouble when that one thing changes or dissolves. Like Grant Hackett, he had swimming, he identified as a swimmer, his passion was swimming yet when he was older and no longer competitive in the top range; he crashed because he had only that one. He would have felt empty, lost and confused. He lacked the direction and ability to find a new purpose. Like many, we hope he does find another purpose soon.

This is often the case with so many people that lose their job, become retrenched and retire. Some people have family changes or an illness meaning they need to change their work identity and many struggle redefining their new purpose. We often set our purpose and identity via our chosen work label.

When we feel disconnected with our life or identity, we lack purpose. The feeling that something is missing can dissolve when you lead a passion-filled and purpose-filled life.

Taking some time to determine what it is that inspires and drives us, creates the passion within us and the relevance we place on a specific area drives us to find our purpose. Perhaps you are creative yet forgot that maybe you loved to perform when career took over; you may be driven to support or help and time disallowed that. Whatever you wanted to do before yet couldn’t, maybe now is the right time to chase that again.

Searching for our purpose may take some time, the journey can be fun and interesting, and just because you found one purpose by no means, you may not discover more.

I have worked with both retired sports athletes and retired workers and can assure you that you can indeed find a new purpose when that area of your life changes. And this is an important thing to recognise. When one part of your life finishes, it allows the door to open into the next part. Search your heart, discover your passion from before or now, and get started.

Tips to help discover your new purpose:

  1. Remember what your passion was as a younger person
  2. Think about the issues or discussions that create interest in you
  3. Find that part of you that wants to convince everyone what you believe should happen
  4. Discover that area in your life that is your passion or pain
  5. Imagine your life in 5 years and see what you are doing and the reason why
  6. What is it you would fight for
  7. Take small steps
  8. Accept you may need to try many new and different things that interest you
  9. Connect with a mentor or coach that can inspire you
  10. Understand that life is different

You can be recreated as a new purposeful, passionate person. That is life.

Read more from Dr Karen