Having a professional identity crisis the same time you are looking for a job is not the best of timing. In hindsight I could have seen the midlife crisis coming. Approaching 40 I was scheduled for one. But I was not getting bold and didn’t have the urge to buy a red corvette, so I was under the impression I was good. And getting a crisis around your midlife is so cliche. Come on! Seriously?
I was driving around in my wife’s pink Toyota Starlet to job interviews wondering why many times I could only tell one story about Project Management. It was a story of “plan the flight, fly the plan” and “control the crap out of everything” … you know the one. The clean, linear, since-I-was-born-my-life-has-prepared-me-for-this-moment story.
My entire working life I was dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. Mostly uncertainty and ambiguity for others. Creating nice linear narratives out of messy situations. Because in the end, that’s what planning is, collectively creating a narrative about what we all think happened and is going to happen. “Sensemaking“, Karl Weick would call this.
Trained and experienced in handling uncertainty and ambiguity now I was lost.
I felt I had no story of my own any more.
I tried other stories. I tried the “Social Media Maven” story. And the “Project Management Expert”. But in the end, I’m not an “expert”. I cannot tell people what they should do.
Without a narrative of where I’m going, I become restless. You know you have this problem when you hate the question: “what do you do?”
Although I cannot tell you what to do, I can tell you what is working for me.
I figured out how my brain is determining the location of my identity. Creating an image of “You are here.”
In his notion of The Creative Cycle Johnston introduces the idea that we look for patterns in space and patterns in time to determine where we are. Basically a location is space is determined by which social groups you think you are most associated with, and the groups that are the furthest away from you. Your location in space is a social notion based upon group association.
Your place in time is determined by where you are within a cycle of events. Johnston’s Creative Cycle is such an repeating pattern. This cycle
“… divides the creative process into stages through which form emerges and differentiates from its creative context. This creative process applies equally well to an individual life, a relationship, a creative project, and global culture. … Central to his model is the notion that context is necessarily forgotten in order for form to develop. The task of the first half of the creative cycle is differentiating context and form. The task of the second half is integrating them into a creative whole.”
To determine where we are, we look for cues that are associated with social groups, and we are looking for markers in time that provide us insights on where we are on the cycle. Typical markers are transitions, periods that are good (highs) and periods that are bad (lows).
An identity crisis is one hell of a marker.
So. If you hear yourself talk, look for expressions of cues and markers, and you can construct the narrative of where you think you are.
That’s why I like blogging. It provides me with a container full of markers and cues.