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Tinkering with identity: how a teen reminded me to blow off the rules. And Soul!, the TV show.

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

This week, I had the pleasure of coaching a 17-year-old who is mere weeks from heading off to college. It reminded me how inspired I was by undergrads at Vanderbilt last spring who used The Habit Trip for a textbook to study the psychology of behavior change and how it works in their own lives.

When I get into a session with a new client (teenagers in particular), I'm never sure if I'm going to get short, non-committal answers to my questions, or if I'll get a very enthusiastic impassioned exposé of experiences, impressions, curiosity, and die-hard beliefs. This kid brought the latter.

I got a full story about nerves, excitement, and expectations, worries and fears. Beyond concerns about her own life, she had a lot to say about Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and criminal justice reform. She's battling between who her parents and teachers say she is and who she is becoming. The rules they set and labels they apply to her no longer fit, and she's well on her way to busting out.

When I have a chance (like I did on that call) to crawl back inside the mind of a teenager, I'm reminded how spectacularly tenuous identity is: how early we decide "who we are" and "what we're like" before we even have a chance to explore adulthood; and how magnificent it is when we allow those identities to morph over time.

You're lazy. You're uptight. You're strong. You're weak. You're practical.

Really? Always?

In order to stretch beyond those labels, at any phase of life, we have to be willing to outgrow old assumptions about ourselves and others, to seize on (and live out) new stories. As long as we stay tied up inside the lines, we're stuck.

Heading off to college is the perfect time to play with identity. There's so much to explore! But that opportunity isn't only for college kids. As we move into post-pandemic life, we're all holding our identities loosely. The iron grip we had before (or thought we did) was dissolved by circumstances beyond our control—and here we are.

This is as good a time as any to outgrow old stories about who we can and can't be. So I'm sending along a simple exercise this week.

Write a new chapter of your story, your own way, by completing the following sentence:

"I am someone who..."

If you're not sure where to begin, have a look at the Ten Areas of Well-Being to consider parts of your life where you might find opportunities to flex and change, whenever and wherever you feel like it!

If you're still stuck, make two lists: assumptions you make about yourself& assumptions others make about you. Are they true? Do they have to be?

My client reminded me how much the world is changing—and how grand those changes are. It's Pride Month, which looks fantastically different than it did just a few years ago. And we instituted Juneteenth, a newly-official holiday this past weekend, to commemorate the end of slavery, recognition that was obscenely overdue. There is much more change to come. The teenager told me so. We're getting there.

In the meantime, growth in our individual lives is always within reach. We make choices every minute about who we are and what is possible.

What if you gave yourself permission this summer to make a new assumption about who you are?

I can't think of a single reason why not. Nothing in the world is static, and we don't have to be either.



Last weekend, I watched a documentary on PBS' Independent Lens called Mr. Soul! about a TV show that ran on New York City's Public Television Channel 13 from 1968 to 1973—and its brilliant creator, a man named Ellis Haizlip. The show ended before I was born, and I was completely ignorant to the influence it had on American life, long past its cancellation during the Nixon administration.

As Ellis said, "Soul! makes Blacks visible in a society where they have been invisible." The show was raw, unafraid of confrontation and truth-telling. It was also an open and unfettered celebration of Blackness, Black culture, identity, and wisdom, of women, poetry, dance, and music. You can see a 30-second trailer HERE, or link to watch the whole thing HERE.

The documentary is a reminder of how stories shape us—the ones we tell ourselves and the ones others tell about us—and the power we have when we take back the narrative. In this case, power so groundbreaking that it ran up against the political forces of the era.


Final reminder for the in-person workshop coming up next weekend at The Happy Hour in Nashville - Re-Entry: Your Life, Your Way Post-COVID. It's a chance to zoom out for a bird's eye view to figure out what's working, what's not, and what you want to do about it—your way.More info and tickets HERE. Every ticket includes a signed copy of The Habit Trip.


If you would like to organize a virtual or in-person workshop, read more here or reach out to tell me about your group!


If you know someone who could benefit from this Microdosing Wellness Newsletter, please share it! They can SIGN UP HERE.

Past posts can be found HERE.

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