Identity and Letting Go of Fear of Judgement

A challenge for beginner knitters

I wrote this in 2015 but never posted it. This was written 6 months after having quit my full time job and I was still struggling with figuring out what I wanted to do with myself. I was afraid to move forward with something new (being a knitwear designer) because I thought I would fail while also no longer ‘being me’ as others expected.

I thought I’d share these thoughts here because they may help others who are feeling stuck. The gist here, you are not what you do and don’t let fear of judgement stop you from changing. You can change the things you do and still be you. If you want to try new things, try them!

“When the new-found freedom is freedom from an old pattern, an old way of being, it feels like having lost an identity.”

From Your Courageous Life

This quote really struck a chord with me. 

It took me a long time to quit my full time job as a web designer. I had been fiddling with HTML and CSS since I was 9 years old and then I got my AS degree in Interactive Design. I got an internship while in school and stayed with the awesome group of people I worked with for 8 years. That’s 20 years of being a web designer.

My Identity: dedicated web designer, computer nerd, responsible adult

I started talking to my family about how I was no longer sure about my career maybe 5 years ago. I hated being stuck at my computer and I just wanted to look at some trees. Which is funny, because I’d always identified as a computer nerd (I mean, I could spend 18+ hours at a computer and still not want to leave). But I thought I probably just needed some more vacation or maybe to work freelance (same work, just with more freedom).

I denied that I really wanted to change for a long time. 

I gradually became more and more stressed with my work. I couldn’t handle the deadlines anymore, the tight budgets, the overtime. I didn’t feel like I was really helping anyone, even though I was giving my all and then some. 

I felt like I needed a break and the 4 weeks of vacation a year still didn’t feel like enough. (Yeah, I know, boohoo to me.) So, even though I identified as a ‘responsible adult’ and ‘responsible adults’ don’t just quit their jobs, I did just that.

The plan: Save money. Quit my full time job and travel as much as I could. Illustrate the children’s book John wrote. Continue teaching remotely, part time. Once John (my husband) started school, I’d freelance or start working full time again.

I dove headlong into travel. I think it may have been the day after my last day of work that we got into our car and drove to Texas for our holiday road trip.

And then there was a month or two between our travels where we went nowhere. And I had time to think. And I had absolutely no plans, no schedule, nothing.

And I started to panic. I started to panic because this tiny thought kept entering my head, “I don’t want to be a full time web designer.”

And then…

What am I doing?

Who am I to just stop working full time?

What did I do to deserve this break?

Am I no longer a web designer if I stop actively looking for clients? Is that okay?

What will people think? 

This went on for months. I’m still dealing with it. If there’s one thing my parents taught me, it was self-reliance and to be reliable, and that means having a full-time job or at least the salary that a full-time job provides. It also means that I should be available for what people expect me to be available for – like designing websites.

But I’ve slowly allowed some acceptance in. Does it really matter to anyone else if I’m making 15, 20, 50 thousand dollars a year? Probably not.

Does it matter to anyone else if I’m designing websites all of the time? Probably not. Someone else can take over for me.

I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the thought of being this ridiculous free spirit, without a full time job and without an overpowering identity.

I am not a web designer, I just design websites. I don’t have to live up to this identity forever and that doesn’t make me any less me.

So, how do I feel about this 3 years later? When someone asks me what I do, I give a mishmash of answers that seems to take forever to get out. “I’m a knitwear designer, Twitch streamer,  adjunct instructor of web design and I volunteer at the Center for Birds of Prey”.

(On a side note, I actually hate being asked what I do because I feel like it’s a quick question to a quick over summarization of a person… I need to think of a better question to ask someone, like, “What do you like to do?” instead.)

And instead of thinking about who I might upset or offend with a choice I make, I think about who I can make happier or who I can help!

I think it’s helpful to put yourself in the shoes of others when you’re feeling a fear of judgement. Think about how you think about other people — for me, I tend to give other people a lot of slack, way more than I give myself. And I also don’t think about other people near as much as I think about myself! Which is probably true for all of us, no matter how selfless we think we are. It’s only human nature to be wrapped up in ourselves, we only have our one true point of view.

So, first, realize that others probably aren’t giving you much thought. There’s a little weight off your shoulders.

Then, if you still feel like you’re being judged, remember that people’s thoughts about you are only a reflection of themselves. Like I said, we only have our one true point of view from behind our own eyes and our own minds.

For example, say I’m judging you for going against the grain and quitting your full time job without another job lined up. Deep down, what I’m really thinking is that I would be scared shitless to quit my job and couldn’t imagine doing so. (While also thinking, “Wow, it would be sooo nice to get out of this job!”)

Don’t let someone else’s baggage become yours!

Are you struggling with a life change but are stalling because of the fear of change or judgement? Let me know about it in the comments.