Celebrating a Loss of Identity

By Sue Mintz
November 28, 2022

During her years as a healthcare executive, one of my clients told me about her more than 40 pairs of high heels. Her colleagues often had fun anticipating which pair the shoe junkie would wear. Shoes were her accessory of choice, always complimenting her attire.

Then she retired.

Recently she felt a sense of loss after looking at her shoe collection, still so well organized in clear plastic boxes by color, style, and heel height. It wasn’t so much about the shoes, she said. But the “shoes” were no longer part of her identity.

Constantly changing her “shoe look” to compliment her outfit, from tortoiseshell, brocade, patent, floral, and red leopard heels, she was now wearing tennis shoes, flats, and flip-flops. She wasn’t involved in client meetings, conferring with physicians, or guiding her teams. She missed it all, felt a sense of loss, and was stuck, thinking about what she would do next.

The feeling of loss is common after losing a family member, friend, pet, and even a job. People often feel it upon retiring, too. We discussed what would help her move forward: What’s next regarding her identity, purpose, and feeling that she was making a difference?   

She started a non-profit and built a new home with her husband, but the shoes deep in her closet kept whispering to her.

What to do?

Following the teachings of Marie Kondo, she planned a celebration for her shoes!

She selected ones that told a story: The ones she wore on special occasions, on business trips, when delivering presentations, and when accepting a prestigious award. She also selected the heels she loved to wear with jeans on Fridays and the ones she HAD to buy because they were on sale.

She then wrote a thank-you note to her shoes: “Thanks for being there and serving me so well. Thanks for making me smile. I’m grateful you were there for some of my biggest events and accomplishments.”

Her next move, she donated them to a charity.

Going through this intentional process of letting go of the past motivated her to pursue ideas for a new and evolving identity and purpose.

Soon after writing her note, I received this text: “As we age, we tend to feel losses for the changes in our life. After accepting the loss and expressing gratitude for what we had, we can move into our next chapter with excitement and confidence!”

Are you are feeling stuck as you transition from your career into the next chapter in your life? What part of your past can you celebrate and show gratitude for so you can move forward?

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