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Shaping Our Identity vs. Running Away And Starting Over

The strange suburban road trip that led to an existential mind trip.

My partner and I moved to Chicago two months ago, so for us the city still has the appeal of the unknown. Every weekend is an exploration of some of Chicago's 200 plus neighborhoods and those little out of the way places that by knowing will eventually make us Chicagoans.

Several weekends ago we chose our adventure by its strange appearance on a map. Try this: In Google Maps search "Chicago", click on satellite view, zoom in a bit, and scroll west. Stop when you see the giant crop circle and you've found Fermilab. That mysterious looking 4 mile long ring is part of this national physics lab's particle collider and who wouldn't want to check that out on a Saturday afternoon?

But my story isn't about proton-antiproton collisions and it's not about Chicago. On our way to Fermilab a story came on public radio about a young man who chose to leave his orthodox religion to live a more secular life that felt completely foreign to him. By choosing a life outside of Orthodox Judaism he had to forge a new identity and relearn how to interact with society- how to get a job, how to go on dates. To preface the story, the show's host shared that she sometimes wonders while driving what it would be like to do something similar. To just exit off the highway in a new town and start all over again. To be new in a place where nobody knows your past- where you can design your identity from day one.

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So I thought, what if we just exit into Batavia, Illinois, home of Fermilab and birthplace of Mary Todd Lincoln, and never go back? We had never been there before and nobody knew our name. We could have stopped at Starbucks, grabbed a paper and a pencil, and outlined an ideal new life. What would we do differently? But more importantly, what's stopping us from making those changes now? Are we currently living a life that is anything but authentic? Soap operas tells us we have one life to live. Country songs hope we dance and plead with us to live like we were dying. The aphorisms are inspiring but what does it take to put them into action?

The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle of that spectrum of feeling stuck in a rut and exiting into Batavia. Many of us have reached where we are now because we [enter our life story] yet we envision an ideal life of [enter our life dreams]. Somewhere in the middle the two shall meet and that is where we are at this moment and where we make our choices.

Maybe pulling over at a Starbucks, or at least our kitchen table, with that paper and pencil is something we all need to do from time to time. We can feel like running away and give ourselves the luxury of fantasy. But we can also intentionally define and design what we want our lives to look like. We deserve to ask ourselves the powerful questions that keep us in alignment with our purpose. Or discover our purpose for the first time.

• What is great right now and what could be better?
• When am I the most authentic and when am I just going through the motions?
• What do I need to thrive and how can I incorporate that into my life?
• When am I genuinely giving of myself and when am I just pouring myself out in obligation?
• What fills me back up?
• What is my voice? What is my style? What are my strengths and values?
• If it's something different I want, what is one small thing I can do differently now to get me there?

Can we be both realistic about our situation and idealistic about our possibilities? If we go public with a goal, dream or intention- if we write it down or tell a friend- then it feels more real and may even plant a seed somewhere out there. There is power and purpose in our kitchen table dreaming.

In the words of our consummate American explorer of identity: "Let go of the past and go for the future. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined." ~Henry David Thoreau

P.S. Oh, by the way, Fermilab was as intriguing in person as it appeared on the map. Oddly enough, this huge particle collider labratory has a herd of free range buffalo grazing right on top of it. Strange indeed.

 

Brad Waters MSW, LCSW provides career-life coaching and consultation to clients internationally via phone and Skype. He helps people explore career direction and take action on career transitions. Brad holds a Master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan and Master's certification in Holistic Health Care from Western Michigan University. Brad is also a personal development writer whose books are available on Amazon and BradWatersMSW.com

Copyright, 2013 Brad Waters. This article may not be reproduced or published without permission from the author. If you share it, please give author credit and do not remove embedded links.

Brad Waters, L.C.S.W. is a career and well-being expert based in Chicago. He is also a freelance writer with a background in social work and holistic health care.

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