Identity Lies

For about five years, in our late 40s, Mark and I tried ‘Pretirement.”Mark on Grand Ronde

Never heard of it?

It’s where you live as if you’d retired, even though it’s not sustainable.

This meant that Mark stopped wearing casual-but-smart slacks and shirts while working as a reasonably well paid hydrogeological consultant with Pacific Groundwater Group, (which he co-founded with 2 friends in our living room in 1987) , and instead  wore whatever he wanted while rafting, playing, hiking, biking and working part-time taking care of a few rental homes we’d managed to buy in Boise, Idaho. 

I stopped working in the trenches at a community mental health center, re-trained as a Life Coach, and took on  painting and gardening at the rentals.

So, we didn’t really put our feet up so much as become totally flexible. Most days we could work to a human rhythm. Breakfast and walks to school with the kids; tea and toast after school for our two, plus any friends of theirs who needed a second home. We could play in the big back-yard wilderness of southern Idaho according to the season’s dictates – biking, rafting, hiking, and skiing. All close by and affordable*.

So – why in the midst of living the “good life” did we lie?

Remember – we were new to Boise, Idaho and had left family, community and professions in the Pacific Northwest. So, here’s how it looked to start with:

  • New friend #1          Hey Mark, so what do you do?
  • Mark Utting               I’m, er, a Hydrogeologist.
  • New friend #1           Oh, with which firm?
  • Mark Utting               I had my own company up in Washington State.
  • New friend #1           So, you’re commuting, or starting Boise branch?
  • Mark Utting               No, right now I’m, well . . . managing some rental  property.

Note – the initial need to identify himself as ~

  1. his profession (Hydrogeologist)
  2. his most recent success (company owner)
  3. the most acceptable form of work he could muster (managing rentals)

We began to notice ourselves not speaking the truth of our new lives in all sorts of ways. 

We were shocked to realize how much we had bought into the status anxiety of our times. We apparently still believed it was somehow preferable to identify ourselves by our professional titles and past successes. We were embarrassed to tell the truth – that we’d had enough of the fast track and had chosen to dramatically simplify, foster our creative sides, work on some rentals, re-tool, downsize – call it what you will. But we were massively guilty of lying-by-omission.

So we took a long hard look at our choices and ourselves and decided to embrace our new life by telling the truth.

  • New friend #2           Hey Mark, so what do you do?
  • Mark Utting                Have fun!
  • New friend #2            Yea, but where do you work?
  • Mark Utting                You know, I don’t identify myself by my work right now. I’m committed to following my own path to see where it leads. I play music in a group, I write songs, I ride my bike, raft and hike in summer, and ski in winter. We swapped out our nice single-family home in Port Townsend for a tiny one and some rentals, which we’re fixing up. We’re long on time and short on cash – but I’m having more fun now than I ever have!
  • New friend #2             [Responses ran the gamut! From pity to envy and lots in between]
  • Mark Utting                And you, what makes you happy?

So – my questions to you today are these:

How do you identify yourself?

  • married
  • doctor
  • divorced
  • sister
  • therapist
  • engineer
  • cancer survivor
  • college graduate
  • high school senior

Are these enough? Is it enough to be defined by what you’ve done (high school or college) or what you do (doctor or therapist) or what you’ve survived (cancer, divorce)?

And is this identity big enough to hold the all of you?  Not just the you who goes to work, but the you who loves, cares, creates, raises kids, walks dogs, grows petunias, feeds wild birds, dreams, grows?

If not – what else might you call yourself?

And, can you tell this truth to anyone, or is this still your closet self?

Rocky Canyon* “Affordable” skiing? Yes, if you back country ski you drive to snow, stick skins on your skis and hike up what you plan to ski down. Mark shot this photo of me about 5 miles from our home in Boise. When you wake up to this it’s wonderful to have a flexible schedule!   Also, if you live in Boise it costs all of $228 USD for an early purchase discount pass to Bogus Basin .

2 thoughts on “Identity Lies

  1. Claire

    Gemma, this is really relevant to me, as a soon-to-be empty-nester. At first, I was just thinking in terms of, “we could sell the suburban house and move into an urban condo”. But the more I thought about it, I am lucky enough to be able make more fundamental choices, ones that are more at the core of my identity – around my marriage, my career, and my nationality. I don’t know where I am going with this – only that I am going to re-evaluate *everything*. I am scheduled to go on the 88 Temples of Shikoku pilgrimage next spring, and I want to go *now*, so I have the time, the quiet, and the space to do this re-evaluation. Since that’s not in the cards, I’m thinking that maybe the pilgrimage, rather than being the re-evaluation time, will be the launch, of the new, whatever I am going to unfold to be, me.

    Reply
  2. gemmautting Post author

    Dear Claire – I’ve been thinking about your upcoming year a lot too. I know you have your amazing Pilgrimage and I can only imagine how life-enhancing this will be for you. I can also understanding wanting to speed the day….I’ll be intrigued to see how this chrysalis time shapes what is to come. From what I know of you, you will emerge with new ways to appreciate life, deepen your connections and expand your already mighty capacity for compassion. Enjoy!

    Reply

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