To borrow a line from Amazing Grace, I once was lost but now am found.
Okay, the context is rather more mundane here. I’m not talking about redeeming my eternal soul or having a Road to Damascus-type revelation. But I’ve definitely had a moment of sorts. I’m rediscovering who I am – and enjoying that experience.
Phases and labels
In life, we go through phases. Not all of us go through all of them, but they are universally recognisable. There’s the ‘rebellious teenager’ phase, where we’re trying to assert our place in the world. Then there’s the ‘career’ phase, where we’re carving out a new identity and pursuing our ambitions in the world of work. The ‘family’ phase is when our focus shifts to our children. And so on.
Then there’s whatever phase I’m in now. I’m not sure what you’d call it. The ‘kids becoming independent’ phase? The ‘new lease of life’? Or maybe it’s just the ‘midlife crisis’? Who knows?
Regardless, I’ve been locked in the ‘family’ phase for the past 11 years. During that time I think I lost my identity behind a series of convenient labels: ‘dad’, ‘blogger’ and so on. In truth, there were also times when I chose to hide behind them.
As a ‘dad’, there are all the new father stories. The births – including Toby’s, when I delivered him myself on our living room floor. The sleepless nights. Nappy incidents. The key milestones: first word, first steps, first day of school. We all have them: to some degree, they define us as much as our children. You meet up with friends less often and when you do their first question is always, “How are the kids?” We fall back on telling child-related anecdotes rather than our own.
As a ‘blogger’, we develop our own alter egos. An avatar and a social media user-name. Words, images and videos. Our ‘personal brand’. The topics we cover, the brands we work with, the circles we move in – they all define us. At various times I have been a ‘daddy blogger’, a cycling writer, a TV reviewer, a podcaster, the singing bloke from BML16. All of these are me and yet not – just as a holographic projection isn’t the real me.
As individuals, we resist simplistic labels. But sometimes those same labels are convenient masks for when we don’t want to face the world or show it who we really are. Or because we’re just too damn tired. It’s easy to lose our sense of self in the midst of all this.
I think that’s what happened with me.
Lost and found
It’s not that I’ve been drifting aimlessly through life but equally I haven’t focussed on myself either. I lost ‘me’ among all these other labels and identities.
My health (as a type 2 diabetic) is a good example of this. I’ve invested so much energy into being a father and pursuing my blogging interests that my own health issues have been secondary. Which sounds ridiculous when you put it in writing, but that’s what happened. Losing sight of ‘me’ when you’re managing your other personas happens surprisingly easily.
At the beginning of 2018 I talked about making it the ‘Year of Me‘. That helped enormously. By giving myself permission to spend time on nurturing ‘me’ as well as my blog, work and family, I started to rediscover myself and appreciate that it’s okay to be a little bit selfish – or maybe that should be ‘self-focussed’ – occasionally.
Through the year, I started to make time for improving my health. At first it was small changes – tracking and increasing how much walking I did, for example. Eventually, I made some major diet and lifestyle changes. As a result, I’ve lost nearly three stone and transformed my fitness levels. I am (almost literally) half the man I used to be – and a much happier one.
The kids are growing – and so should I
At the same time, I am benefitting from the kids getting older and more independent. We don’t have to keep an eye on them every minute of the day any more and that increasing liberation allows me to spend more time on doing some of the things that I gave up as a parent of young children. Getting fit. Going out with friends. Enjoying life without constantly having to worry about the kids. Heck, I might even start going to the cinema again to see films that aren’t animated!
If the first step beyond the ‘family’ phase is to rediscover who I am then maybe, having put my personal growth on hold for so long, the next step is to discover new things I can embrace. The kids are growing up. Maybe it’s time I gave myself the chance to do the same.