body language

Holding on to your identity during a transition?


Maybe you shouldn’t be. 

Transitions – in life or in career – are tough. One of the hardest parts is the seeming attack on your identity when you no longer fill a given role, a role you may have played for years, even decades. People who have had to change careers for physical or health reasons, retirees from work to which they have dedicated years of their lives, mothers whose children have grown up and fled the nest, all struggle with this identity crisis.

I know it well: I was a very dedicated ballet dancer when I was young. I lived and breathed ballet: my companions, my choices in food, clothing, entertainment, the décor in my bedroom, all pivoted around my focus on dance.

Then I had to stop. Ballet isn’t something you do forever. But when I did, I had this vast, empty cavern inside of me that I couldn’t seem to fill. If I wasn’t a dancer, how would other people know who I was, relate to me in a way that I felt comfortable? What did I have to be proud of? What would I talk about, and to whom? Would I become invisible? I felt invisible.

The problem was this: I had identified myself as a “dancer.” So if I wasn’t being a dancer, who was I?

As a wise friend remarked, “No, you’re a person who dances. And when you are no longer dancing, you will still be a person.”

In other words, if the identity you have constructed hinges on a specific label, you will be in trouble during a transition. If, on the other hand, you have identified the qualities that made you so good at what you did in that role, then you can search for other ways in which to express those qualities.

My problem was that I was a performer: I loved it, even craved it. And yet, as a shy introvert, I couldn’t get that thrill on a day-to-day basis: spontaneous social contacts left me receding into panic. I needed that stage.

I also loved to wear costumes and the special way they made me feel. Finally, my body needed to feel the freedom of movement.

Most of all, I love to share all the things I have experienced, and from which I have learned,  with others.

So this is the story of how I became a professional speaker: someone who, dressed a little more elegantly than the audience, sways people emotionally and provides them with information and the positive energy they are seeking. Making broad, sweeping gestures and using body language appropriate to the content of the speech is a necessity to inform, motivate, and yes, entertain people.

And guess what, I can do this the rest of my life! Aging joints and muscles and less-than-vigorous energy levels won’t deter me.

I didn’t make the change overnight, though.

So, if you are in transition, take stock of what you do well, those great qualities you may not even recognize in yourself: headily directing a team of people to reach higher goals, nurturing individuals to help them become their best, providing the optimistic outlook that troubled people seek, being the “bridge over troubled water” that we desperately need in this world … and more.

One of my clients was very concerned about a new job she had, as manager of a restaurant. How could she cope? What did she know anyway about managing people? I had observed her with her grandchildren, where she was both warm and decisive in her manner, leaving them no doubt as to what she wanted from them – and didn’t want. She was perfect for the job; she just didn’t realize it yet.

Whatever you find out about yourself, recognize that, in one way or another, you may be able to do this for the rest of your life. If not, once you have transitioned successfully, you will have developed the skill to look for a new role that will explore your talents and refresh your spirit, and to recognize it when the opportunities appear. And they will.


Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Are your Bragging Rights killing you?

Personal note

A lovely relaxed long week-end with a dear friend prompted me to think about how I am dealing with my own life, as well as about my clients who are abusing their bodies in the name of busy-ness.

We had an urban staycation, with ample time to chat about our lives and the choices we are making. It was a time of great clarification; no vacation to Hawaii or another paradise could have brought as much peace and serenity to me.

Here we are, relaxing on my front porch.

Are your Bragging Rights killing you?

“I never eat lunch,” “I work 12 hours a day,” “I only get about 4 hours of sleep a night – oh, I don’t need any more; I feel just fine.” “Weekend? What’s a weekend?”

I hear these statements all the time from people whose body language and facial expressions show that they are pleased, even smug about their habits. They protest, with overly bright eyes, that they are just fine.

They have drunk the kool-aid; the flavor that tells them that bad things such as heart attacks and strokes only happen to other people – old people.

They don’t know that skipping meals leads to stress, which leads to craving all those things that are bad for you – sugar, fats, and salts. They really don’t grasp that these things are bad for you. And although they may have heard that sleep is necessary for repair of muscles, including the heart muscle, healthy functioning of the immune system, and weight & appetite control, they don’t really feel threatened by their behavior.

They may attribute their anxious or depressed moods to what’s going on in life rather than what’s going on in their bodies. When their memory suffers and they make mistakes, they believe it’s a temporary problem due to overload – which of course will be gone any day now. Only somehow it’s not.

Perhaps they don’t know that cardiac disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, with the death rate rising for women ages 35 to 50. I recently heard a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute remark that sleep deprivation is a greater precursor of cardiac disease than high blood pressure and diabetes – together.

In the meantime, while waiting for a surprising attack that will finally get your attention, you can be forgetful, irritable, frequently ill, and overweight. Sound like a good life to you?

What exactly is the prize that many of these health scofflaws are pursuing so vigorously? 

When you start bragging about this kind of hardiness, it’s a good idea to stop and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did I really want when I started out on this race I now seem to be in?
In the heat of the race, it’s easy to forget what originally motivated you.
  • Is this prize any nearer now that I have worked so hard?
Sometimes it seems as if the end is farther and farther away, more and more
  • Is there another way to get to this same prize?
If what you were pursuing is the good life, maybe you could stop right now,
look around you, and enjoy what is already there.
  • Is the prize worth the price I am paying?

Missing key events in the life of your loved ones, especially growing children, is an extraordinarily high price to pay for success which may or may not be coming to you in this manner and in this place.

End of life counselors tell us that people on their deathbeds don’t sigh with satisfaction and say, “At last I got that Beamer,” or “My greatest satisfaction in life was that I got that second home on the lake.”

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
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