I am not the same person I was when I graduated college 16 years ago. That’s a good thing! As people we should be growing and changing as we age. But it can also be a hard thing. Sometimes change happens so slowly that we have time to grow into our new selves. But sometimes the change is fast and jarring. Sometimes the change comes as a result of tragedy that leaves us breathlessly wondering who am I?
I attended a small, Christian, liberal arts college. Wheaton College was such a huge blessing in my life. I met my husband, I made friendships that are able to stay alive through the blessing of social media as I watch these people impact their corners of the world for Christ, I had professors that turned into mentors. I had four years to grow into adulthood. One of the benefits of going to a school like Wheaton was endless attempts to learn more about myself. Myers-Briggs? Check! Strength finders? Check! Spiritual Gifts Inventories? Double check!
These personality tests gave me labels, and I loved those labels! People in their late teens and early 20s are primed to love labels. It helps us make sense of the world that feels like it is shifting around us at a blinding pace. It gives us identity exactly at a time when we are searching for it the most.
As I headed out into the big bad world where I was starting a career, starting a marriage, and paying my own bills I wrapped myself in these labels. They brought comfort.
Fast forward 16 years and a lot of life has happened. My husband and I have moved more than I ever thought I would in my entire lifetime. We have done the hard work of learning how to really love each other in this wonderful but difficult thing called marriage. We have walked through significant health issues with our children. We have grown as people and grown in our faith.
But I didn’t really feel grown.
Sure! I felt those changes percolating within me, but more often than not I would ask myself, “What would an adult do in this situation?” And then I’d just do that thing. Oh I was fully an adult, but something inside of me didn’t want to let go of those labels that comforted me so in college, because without those labels who was I?
A friend recently wrote on Facebook about how much freer she feels as a person and specifically as a woman now that she is 40. A lot of the old insecurities and hang ups had faded for her, and she felt free to be herself. I feel like I hear that a lot, and I started to wonder if that is automatic. Like is there something magical that happens as you approach your 40s that allows you to be free? To drop the labels that no longer work and embrace every part of who you really are?
Unfortunately I think the answer is no.
I have plenty of clients in their early 40s who continue to struggle with these very issues. Who struggle with understanding or even embracing who they are. Our therapy centers around growing the parts of them that aren’t serving them well, and learning to accept the parts of them that they had previously not wanted to embrace.
So what do we do when we feel like we don’t know who we are anymore? When we know we have changed, but we are having difficulties feeling comfortable in our new selves.
The obvious solution is finding an amazing counselor and working through these issues with them. I mean it’s not like I’m biased or anything that therapy is the answer! 🙂
Another great thing to do is find a mentor or trusted friend who can help you process some of the changes you are experiencing in your life.
The people who approach 40 feeling more at ease in themselves, are most often the people who have done the work. They’ve gone to therapy, they’ve surrounded themselves with mentors, they read books that grow them as people.
There are certain books that I recommend most often to my clients to help them figure out who they are, and grow as a person. (You can click any of these titles to quickly and easily link to them. These are affiliate links. See the disclosure at the bottom of the post.)
Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody – If you have struggled in your life with low self-esteem, difficulty with boundaries, feeling like you need to be perfect, being too dependent or not dependent enough on other people in your life, or if your life has just felt too controlled or too chaotic, then this book is for you! Actually I suggest that most of my clients read this book, because everyone either struggles or has struggled with at least one of these areas in their lives. Pia Mellody’s “Meadows Model” of therapy serves as one of the backbones of what I do with my clients.
Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldridge – This book has been amazing in my own life to learn more about how God sees me, created me, and desires to grow me as a woman. I have so many favorite quotes from this book, but one of them is, “You know what we do as women when we feel afraid: we reach for control. We do it in relationships when we self-protect But when we choose to protect ourselves in fear and withdraw, we have already lost everything. We are already alone. Self-protecting is not our ally. As Beth Moore said at a conference I attended in 2008, ‘We can self-protect ourselves right out of our calling.’ We can self-protect ourselves right out of our becoming, right out of the will of God. God is a God of love, and we are commanded to love as well. Do not fear! Love!
Letting Go of Shame – Shame can be a huge barrier to growth in our lives. Shame sends the message that who we are is not good enough, is not okay, is not worthy. This book is amazing because besides the incredible knowledge and wisdom shared in the text, there are exercises at the end of each chapter to help you grow in that area. If I ever have a client who has to quit or pause therapy for financial or scheduling reasons, I recommend they get this book and work through it. It’s like doing some good therapy in the comfort of your own home.
What has been your experience growing and changing as you age? Has it been something easy for you to embrace, or a struggle? Do you have a book you have found helpful in your life? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!
“We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”