Elevator Phobia

Posted: September 8, 2013 in McTrip posts
Tags: , , , ,

Identity Art 2 for identify postEarly into middle-age reconstruction my anxiety was so elevated I could barely sleep. My stress levels were through the roof and there was no credible reason for it. I’d made the decision to stop being a real estate agent, true. But I wasn’t making any money at it, anyway.

So why so petrified?

Life Coach Laura pegged it early on. The only difference was I no longer had a description for who I was. For 16 years I was a real estate agent. I had no idea how scary it would to lose that label. There was no longer a quick and easy answer to the question, “So what do you do?”

I had lost my identity.

Of course it’d been eroding for years, Laura pointed out. Eighteen months earlier I chose to leave a stable 10-year relationship. Two years before that, he and I left behind a big house and moved into a small apartment in another state. Seeking a different way of life, we downsized considerably, leaving behind a majority of the stuff we had accumulated over the years.

My old identifiers were gone: career-minded, stable relationship, lovely house, possessions. And now, by my own hand, all those things were gone.

What was left was a blank slate. My beliefs and personality hadn’t changed. I was still me. But I had no description for me other than “me.” There was no more “real estate agent.” My elevator story was in re-write.

“On a scale of 1-to-10, how would you rate yourself as a human being?” Laura asked. She wanted me to consider who I was morally, ethically, you know, an evaluation of my core. I gave myself an 8. “And how would you rate yourself as a human doing?” she asked next. “How would you rate what you’re doing as a human being?” I generously gave myself a 2.

So the problem wasn’t the kind of person I was but what I was doing as that person. And in America what you’re “doing” usually means your profession.

I soon came to grips with a reality; if I no longer wanted to be identified by my previous occupation I was going to be hard pressed to replace it with just one other alternative. Because it would require re-education if I wanted to go into, say, nursing or law or phlebotomy. And at 50-years-old, time wasn’t necessarily on my side. Plus, the idea of amassing yet more debt to reeducate myself only to compete for jobs against people in their early 20s made no sense. Call me skeptical or even paranoid, but I suspect employers prefer hiring puppies they can mold rather than old dogs with a mind of their own.

Perhaps the answer wasn’t just one job but several. Rather than a 40-hour-a-week career, why not combine four sources of income–each requiring 10 hours a week? Perfect for someone with an attention deficit issue (more on this in a future post). Thus was born the idea of cobbling together a variety of income sources that ultimately, and hopefully, would add up to a comfortable living.

Ok, then, where do we go from here? Laura wanted to explore what the ideal “job collage” would look like. My knee-jerk reaction was it had to include something other people would find intriguing and interesting. It was that response that uncovered a deeper issue … an unhealthy obsession of how I appear to others (another future blog post, stay tuned). Not just the haircut and the eye glasses and the jeans but all the way down to what I do for a living. How was I going to be judged based on my next occupation? That was my main concern. A little messed up, to be sure.

“If you find work that is meaningful and fulfilling you will automatically become more interesting and intriguing to other people,” she suggested.

It was an idea that was so obvious yet something I never really considered. Because the idea of someone finding fulfillment in ditch digging, let’s say, just wasn’t conceivable to me. How could any of those guys on construction crews actually enjoy that?

Well, perhaps, it’s a means to an end for that guy leaning on a shovel. Perhaps it’s that paycheck that allows him the ability to buy the paints and the brushes and the canvas he needs to fulfill his real passion as an artist. Or maybe simply digging that ditch gives him artistic expression.

This led to an epiphany. Maybe the answer in all this mess lies in identifying myself not by how I make money today but by my ultimate dream for the future, to make money again as a writer (yet another upcoming blog, you’re going to be busy). In the meantime if I have to pay the bills by waiting tables or driving a taxi or substitute teaching then so be it. Because I know it’s not forever and, for once in my life, I have a plan and I have a goal. And almost instantly my anxiety subsided.

Thus was born the first tangible breakthrough in mid-life reconstruction. And there would be others…
(To be continued …)

  1. I feel a kinship here! Long story…many blog posts…and yep, a book coming. Can’t wait to see where your story goes!

  2. Bruce says:

    Interesting, Like you I have been in Real Estate for a long time (20 years), no longer really enjoy it, but through its ups and downs has overall given me an ok living. Better than sitting in a cubicle in coporate america. But I have never really defined my self but what I do to earn a living. It’s just something I have to do so I can be and enjoy the things I do.

    Keep up the journey !


  3. Brian West says:

    Binge reading here Jim’ but I’m tracking with you through your process. Brilliance read! Your transparent is fantastic. I’m looking forward to following regularly.

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