It Took a Milestone Birthday, and a Charming and Funny Memoir to Bring About This Realisation, and With It a Turning Point in Sally’s Life
Sally had lost herself in the process of years of keeping her work and her life outside of work separate. She had somehow become two different people. The world wasn’t coming to an end, but the world that she knew was. She was facing a real identity crisis. She had completely changed her persona: not only did her work colleagues not know her, but she no longer actually knew herself. She felt depressed, she felt not only was she broken, but her identity was broken, who she was, was broken. Asking herself: Who am I? What am I? She realised she couldn’t answer.
But let’s back up to:
Sally’s Story: I Knew I Was Having an Identity Crisis, When I Realised I Had Become Two Different People. A Case Study:
Born in 1960, Sally had grown up in a small town in the north of England. On finishing school, she went on to her local polytechnic and achieved a Diploma in Secretarial Practice. Throughout all of this time, Sally had been very involved in her community. She knew everyone, and everyone knew her. She was a big fish in a small pond, but she no longer wanted to be. She wanted to be a small fish in a big pond.
And so, Sally left her hometown for the bright lights, and perhaps even more importantly the anonymity of London. The reason was far greater than not being somewhere where everyone knew her, and knew everything about her, because that wasn’t actually true anyway.
People might have thought they knew her, and everything about her, but actually Sally had been hiding who she was for some time now, or rather the part that she knew she was. She had been hiding that she was gay, and she wasn’t ready to tell anyone, because she didn’t know who or what else she was. She was finding keeping her secret exhausting and mentally draining. She figured it would be easier to be the part of herself who she knew she was, and to discover and uncover the rest in London.
She soon came to discover that was both true and untrue. While she was unable to be herself in any situation in her hometown, in London she very quickly established a social life, where she could both be herself and learn about herself, and have lots of fun along the way.
But at work it was very different. Sally had gotten a job in the public sector. It was the late 1970s and the attitude towards gay men and women in the workplace was cruel; and Sally quickly came to realise that for her self-protection she had to continue to hide who she was at her workplace and with her colleagues.
On reflection, Sally feels this is where becoming two different people had begun, although at the time she didn’t think of it in that way. It was the normal practice of that time for most of Sally’s gay friends to keep their work and their life outside of work separate, to be different people in each of these situations.
And at the time, Sally felt OK with it, because she felt she could compartmentalise her life. She didn’t even consider that it would impact on her identity, because she felt in control; and choosing to be a different person in and out of work was her choice, and it didn’t mean she would become a different person, or persons for that matter.
Fast forward to 2010, as Sally was nearing her milestone birthday of turning fifty, when it suddenly struck her like a lightning bolt that she had in fact become two different people.
One year earlier, after a whirlwind romance, she had married Naomi. It was just ahead of the wedding that she had finally come out to her family. Up until then she had kept her London life — or rather her London double life — secret from her family. But she really wanted them to be at her wedding, and so she opened up to them about her sexuality, and who she really was. Her family were absolutely fine about it. Sally wasn’t sure if they were surprised, or if they had suspected or known all along. They didn’t actually indicate anything. They handled it in an “it’s no big deal, now let’s get to the important stuff of planning this wedding party” way.
But Sally hadn’t told anyone in work about her wedding. She hadn’t told anyone she’d gotten married. The biggest event of her life and she hadn’t told anyone in work about it. Over thirty years after arriving in London, and she was still keeping her work life and her life outside of work separate.
The thing that was really bothering her, was that she didn’t want to tell anyone at work. She didn’t feel she should have to announce her sexuality, because she didn’t feel it was anyone’s business. But at the same time, she felt she was living a lie. She wasn’t being true to who she was. She wasn’t being her full self. But it was more than that, she had actually become two different people. She was leading two very different lives in and out of the workplace.
Sally had lost herself in the process of years of keeping her work and her life outside of work separate. She had somehow become two different people. The world wasn’t coming to an end, but the world that she knew was. She was facing a real identity crisis. She had completely changed her persona.
Not only did her work colleagues not know her, but she no longer actually knew herself. She felt depressed. She felt not only was she broken, but her identity was broken, who she was, was broken. Asking herself: Who am I? What am I? She realised she couldn’t answer.
Bertie, who Sally had met when they both moved into their first flat share in London, and who had become a great friend, gave her a copy of Beautiful People by Simon Doonan for her birthday.
Reading the book, Sally laughed and cried. As the back cover put it: “For anyone growing up in the fifties and sixties it feels like our lives”. It took Sally back to how she had found her way out of the confines of her home town by escaping to London on her quest to be the part of herself that she knew she was, and to find the rest of herself.
She realised that while she had gone far in that discovery in her personal life, she had in fact halted her full discovery by not allowing herself to be her true self in her work life. In the beginning, this was for her own self-protection; but over the years, the cruel behaviour towards gay people had changed, and she could have safely come out, but she chose not to. She had in effect become a different person, or two different people, and she hadn’t even realised.
It took a milestone birthday, and a charming and funny memoir to bring about this realisation, and with it a turning point in Sally’s life.
By self-protecting herself and her identity at work, she had become hard and broken. For a long time in her personal life, she was able to be soft and strong, but the battle of her two personas had over time worn her down, and had caused her feminine side to die.
She finally knew the answer to the Who am I? And What am I? Questions she had posed to herself.
She was a sensitive, emotionally passionate woman, who was both soft and strong. She had denied herself this for so long because somewhere inside of her she was hiding from who she really was, she was holding herself back. She didn’t know why, but that wasn’t important anymore. The important thing was that she now knew who and what she was, and she was determined to bring this to all aspects of her life — both in and out of work.
Words of Wisdom
Take time to reflect on the questions:
Who am I? And What am I?
Through self-feedback allow the answers to inform you what that means in your WorkLife, and what you need to do to live your WorkLife true to who are what you are.
As long as you know who you are and what you are, it doesn’t matter what other people know about you.
By getting to know herself, Sally also got to know people both in and out of work, and people both in and out of work got to know her.
Today’s featured Book is: Beautiful People by Simon Doonan.
WorkLife Book Wisdom Stories:
The intention of the stories I share is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories, you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles, failures and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride.
My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.
I believe stories are a powerful mechanism for teaching, a powerful medium to learn through, and a powerful way to communicate who you are and what you stand for.