I was listening to NPR’s program, Invisibilia the other night on my way home from teaching. I love that podcast. The word, “Invisibilia” is Latin for invisible things – this episode was telling stories about how people cope with loss and what happens when something happens in our lives that fundamentally shifts how we view ourselves.
I was fascinated with how connections were being made around the loss of a loved one to the loss of one’s sense of identity and of the self – like when you lose a job, a title, or a sense of purpose. Then the story shifted to introduce this psychology professor who studies words and language. Specifically, he looks at how we use words to influence our ability to cope with upsetting experiences. He created this computer program that measures when people are coping well with loss by studying the exact words people use and how many times they use them. What he found is that when people use the pronouns “I”, “my” and “me” at a higher than average rate, versus using the pronouns “He”, “she”, “they”, “we”, those folks who stay in what the professor calls “I mode” are not coping with their loss. In other words, they are reciting the same stories to themselves over and over again, sinking deeper into the loss.
Now, I know some folks forget, but I am a communications professor who’s studied language and messaging forever, so his findings almost made me drive off the road! I mean, in this exact moment, I am not coping well with my personal loss right now. My language is riddled with, “I need to get focused,” “My plans are not working out the way I want them to,” “I don’t know what to do with my life,” – is this you too?
Well, if it is, it’s time for us to do what the narrator calls perspective switching. According to the professor, we all walk around with a story about ourselves and are always shifting and editing that story. When a big piece of that “story” is gone, the story unravels and so do we.
But how can you – and I – switch perspectives? We start from scratch. That’s right. You heard me. What if we stopped unraveling, coped with the loss of our current identities to make space for a new story about who we want to be and what we want to do with our lives? That’s possible, isn’t it? Of course it is. But we have to cope with the loss of who we are today to those around us and begin designing a new story about who we truly, authentically want to be. It’s a scary proposition. I know, I am right here with you trying to break out of my modest little loop. But let’s try. Spring is here – time for reinvention.
If you could start from scratch today, what would your reinvented life look like? Tell me in the comments. I can’t wait to hear about it!