I was talking to a woman recently who had lost her executive job in a major layoff about a year and a half ago. She had held an executive role for over 10 years and worked for the same company for over 25 years.

Now, at the age of 48, Mary (not her real name) was experiencing a major identity crisis.

No longer able to introduce herself as the “Vice-President of XYZ large, important, well-known company”– she was feeling insignificant.

Who was she now without that title and status?

A team of 200 people made up her former division and had relied on her vision, direction, and leadership. She had authority and power over their employment and over a portfolio of company services and revenue in the high millions. What she said and did mattered to a lot of people, just by virtue of her position and title.

Outside the company, people were impressed by her title, company, and perceived “importance.” They invited her to speak at conferences and attend events because of her title and perceived influence. People wanted to know her because of the authority she yielded. They had never met her or knew anything of her other than her title and what that denoted. In their minds, that was all they needed to know…

And now, here she was.

Job-less and title-less. Just Mary.

People were no longer seeking her out or listening to her every word. No-one seemed interested or impressed when she introduced herself at an event with merely her name. She still was compelled to use her title, but with the word “former” in front of it—in hopes that it would offer some semblance of significance to those hearing it.

A severe depression ensued shortly after her layoff, along with a loss of self-confidence. Although she had plenty of money and could actually afford not to work for quite awhile, she was anxious to “get back in the game” and “be herself again”. (Those were her words.)

It was at a professional networking event to make job contacts that it hit her. She was sitting in a mini-workshop where a marketing/brand specialist was asking people to introduce themselves. After everyone had gone around the room and given their name and title (or former title), she had everyone try again.

“I don’t want you to introduce yourself with your title,” she said.

“I want you to tell us who you really are, what’s important to you, why you are really here, and what your gift to the world is.”

And that is when, as she describes it, she had a “moment of truth”. She couldn’t answer the questions. Her identity was so wrapped up in her title and the status it inferred that she couldn’t separate herself from the role.   If Mary was no longer a Vice-President and what that role represented—then what was significant about her? Who was she?

This is not the first time I have encountered a “Mary”. In my work with people over the years, this identity crisis is all too common.

“Who am I when I am not a vice-president, or other title?”

“Who am I when my children leave home and I am not a full-time mother?”

“Who am I when I am no longer part of a couple after my divorce?”

Identifying with a role we have leaves us at a loss when the role ends or changes.

Mary reported that recovering her true identity after the layoff took time. She had to search deep inside herself for the answers to those simple but deep questions the woman leading the marketing workshop had posed to the group that day.

Who are you?

What’s important to you?

Why are you here?

What is your gift to the world?

The answers to those questions are things remain with you–regardless of what title you have or what role you are fulfilling.   They are lasting and serve as an anchor from which to choose actions as our circumstances ebb and flow.

Mary’s layoff was a catalyst for her overdue “soul search”. It took the lightening bolt of her job loss to have her see her true identity from her title and roles.

What about you?

What soul searching do you need to do this year?

What do you need to discover?

Isn’t it time?

Go to www.soulsearchsessions.com for more…