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Navigating your shift in identity

By Nicola Winn
April 26, 2024

Do you believe it's time to shift your identity but feel unsure how to navigate the journey? Creative Bridge Chair, Nicola Winn shares her experience and learnings from her own recent experience as she's transitioned from full-time managing director to part-time chair.

The other day, on the way back from London, I met Leon. And we got chatting, as you do.

Aged 77, he was still acting as managing director of a manufacturing firm in Coalville, and I asked him why.

He replied: “I don’t know what my identity is outside of work.”

It got me thinking.

Why is it that we so often hold on to what we think defines us, when what’s ahead could be just as good?

The journey I’ve been on over the past year and a half has, at times, been tough on my sense of self. Having worked full-time for all of my adult life, I attached so much of who I was to my work.

But coming back to Creative Bridge, this time as chair, has been different. Good different. We’re changing and growing with Michelle now at the helm and I’m excited about the evolution of our offer and the pivots that we are making.

My personal shifts are just part of that; it’s been, and continues to be, a journey.

Today, I want to share some insights I’ve had along the way.

I hope they help you as you evolve your own identity.


1. Remember who you are

Whether you’re a chief executive planning your exit strategy, a housing provider facing new regulation or a leader stepping into a new role, just stopping to map out who you really are can help.

When I’m in treatment I’ve learnt to be intentional about remembering that I’m not (just) a cancer patient. I’m Nana Nicky, I’m a wife, daughter, sister, friend, auntie, I’m CB’s chair, I’m me.

Taking time to remember who you are will ground you. And may well give you some new insights too. Things that have been ‘top of the list’ at one point, are often replaced by something new.


2. Release and let go

It’s ugly; the bit just before the caterpillar turns into a butterfly. And embracing this natural ‘messy stage’ of letting go is vital.

I experienced this physically on my journey. I lost my hair of course, but also much of my strength and on occasions, my independence. But what surprised me was that who I was on the inside was stripped back too.

I had no choice but to surrender (which if you’re used to being in control, is not easy!). For me, I had to experience the ugly, the painful and the scary, to enable me to find new pathways. I had to let go, to find the future me.

I think this applies at both a personal and an organisational level.


3. Redefine

We can’t detach our identity from our environment. But we can choose what much of our environment looks like. Personally, this means being intentional about the circles of people I choose to connect with. This is true for organisations too, as you can redefine your own offer to suit the refreshed you, and your changing environment.

I now work part-time and have a community outside of my working world that didn’t exist before my cancer diagnosis. I celebrate both of these changes.

Alongside my part-time work, practicing yoga, using acupuncture and spending time with my grandchildren have all created new circles that I define myself by and in.

As I move between these circles, I’ve realised that whatever my role, the truths about who I am and what I value remain:

I choose connection.

I seek to be creative.

And I aim to have impact.

When I’m true to myself I am me. I add value and I can see purpose in what I do.

So, if you’re embarking on, or in the middle of, an identity journey, I’d like to leave you with these thoughts to ponder:

• Who are you now? What really matters to you?
• What do you need to release?
• What are you taking with you?

Give yourself space to explore – the answers will come.

The growth is always in the journey. So thank you Leon.