Think you know who you are? Your future self disagrees.
Whether it's divorce, quittin' the hooch, or something as scary as cancer, it's these life-altering curve balls that help you come to a place of truly understanding your sense of self.
And if you've never experienced anything catastrophic, well, you may not know who you are.
Recently, I left my wife of eight years and found myself trying to figure out how to go about life in a very unfamiliar way. After sharing a life with someone for a number of years, so many of my daily routines, belief systems and stress relievers were suddenly thrown into the air like a deck of cards in the wind.
My once placid days quickly turned into me arduously chasing after these shambled, scattered cards to try and make the deck complete again. The small things came easy; the bigger issues that took a bit more time.
I really had to stop and think: What do I want for my life now that I don't have to plan it around another person?
Decisions like, "I want to start a business!" (I do? Yes, I do!) "I want children!" (holy shit, I do?!) and "I want to be with someone again."
That last one was big considering I had just come out of an eight-year marriage. But I woke up one morning and decided that I wanted to love and be loved. Call me a p*ssy, but it really was as simple as that. A conscious decision was made; a redefinition of self through hardship.
Right then and there, I became different. And the funny and unexpected thing? I finally felt like I was becoming more myself then I'd ever been before.
The loss of a spouse is just one of a billion things that can force you to redefine yourself. Just a few weeks ago, an old high school friend came to visit me in Nashville and filled me in that he'd quit drinking after 12 years. He divulged to me that his addiction had become so bad that he hadn't gone 12 hours without a drink in over eight years.
"How are you handling it?" I asked.
"I simply started to teach myself how to do everyday things, sober," he replied.
With most of his days starting after the fourth or fifth drink, he felt as if he was re-learning how to be himself. In fact, this re-learning phase morphed into a redefinition of his current identity. He was forced to ask himself: Who will I be once I've learned to live sober?
Then take my friend Jess. In her early 20s, Jess was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer. Overnight, she went from a healthy, vivacious woman to facing her own mortality.
Although I was across the country when she started chemo, I was (and still am) an avid reader of her blog, cheering her on to remission. Little by little, I could see her change almost week by week. It seemed the things she once valued to be "important" became trivial as her battle with cancer progressed.
Jess's priorities completely changed and she became Jess with Cancer instead of the fun loving, carefree Jess I knew. I'd like to think that this journey she's on is only just a stage, and that soon she'll have her chance to reshuffle that f*cking deck, again. Only this time, the cancer card won't be included.
In the end, having the courage to walk away from something —or maybe having the courage to face it head-on —is just the first step in a journey of self-exploration and self-definition.
We humans pride ourselves on our identity, but what I've learned is when faced with things like addiction, sickness, or a wounded, bleeding heart, these evolving and unpleasant truths truly unravel your sense of self.
Who you will become is not who are you now.