Years ago, I came to Zagreb, Croatia as a young professional. For four months, I helped a non-profit called the Center for Peace Studies raise money, set up their financial systems and deepen their board expertise. It was an eye-opening time and one that changed my perspective on life.
A few days ago, my children and I arrived at Zagreb's new airport, named after the president who died while I was here in 1999. I was curious about how things had changed and anxious to see how much I remembered.
I was surprised to find that while the city had probably changed a great deal, the most dramatic change was the one I noticed about myself. In '99, I defined myself as a non-profit accountant. I was single, naive and in awe of the cultural differences between the career-driven Americans and the life-loving Croatians.
During this visit I noticed how much my identity had shifted. Now I saw everything through an artist's eyes. Every mural called to me. Each piece of public art inspired me. And public spaces felt alive with human connection. Instead of thinking about how different our cultures were, I found the similarities.
Whenever I travel I feel a tug between returning to a favorite city or exploring a new land. So far this trip has been a balance of familiar and new, but the new is what's now alive inside of me.
What would it take to expand your definition of yourself? Many of us adopt an identity and never take a fresh look at who we are or who we could become. I often talk with people who feel stuck. They’re stuck in their career identities or their family identities and they don’t necessarily like their own view of who they are.
If this sounds familiar, maybe it’s time to cast off old labels and adopt new ones. How would you like to see the world? What would it take to make that shift? If you’re looking to see the world through new eyes, here’s a suggestion. Try on a new identity for a day. If you want to be more creative, ask yourself, “How would an artist attack this problem?” If you want to me more responsible, ask yourself, “What would I need to do to be a leader in this situation?” See what shifts inside of you when you take on this new role. If it serves you, consider developing it as a new piece of your identity.
You aren’t stuck with one identity your whole life. It’s up to you to create who you’re going to be. How do you choose to see the world? For now, I choose artist. We’ll see what tomorrow holds.