Identity Foreclosure: What Happens When You are no Longer ‘You’?

If there’s one thing I’ve had to adapt to relentlessly in my life, it’s change. Change of career path. Change in my health. Change in my spiritual life. Change of location. And change in relationships.

Change can be a bitch. It can catch you off-guard; shred your sense of indentity; and leave you bereft of a language to speak in your new land of exile.

Cognitive Science has a name for this. It’s called ‘Identity Foreclosurse’.

Now what do I do?

You’re a 15-year-old prodigy violinist at the Juilliard School of Music, under the tutelage of a world-renowed teacher, and being primed for an illustrious career as a classical violinist when—WHAM!—a freak accident irreparably damages a tendon in your left hand and your playing days are (aburptly) over. Who are you then?

You’re a respected, married, and very successful entreprenneur with two teenage children living in your dream home, in a town you grew up in, and known and loved by many in both church and social cirlces. One day your wife of twenty years tells you she’s filed for divorce. She’s had enough. Is moving on. And moving out. Nothing or no one can dissaude her.

Your marriage and ‘respectable’ life now running down the drain. Who are you then?

When we are very settled in a specific identity. Or are overly wedded to any particular area of our lives, or roles we play, most of us don’t have a ‘Plan B’ when the shit hits the fan .. and sticks!


The problem with our culture is overidentification with work.

As I see it, many of us unsuspectingly—along with others who play the system—overly identity with our job, professional persona, and career ambitions. It’s cultural conditioning, a hunger for loving acceptance, and ego desiring all compounded into one perfect fusion.

So what’s the corrective to this misdirected energy?

Detachment and Adaptability.

Our sense of identity needs to not only be more malleable. It needs to be carried lightly. Because, ultimately, we are none of the earth plane roles we play.

In Buddhism there is a term, “Turiyatita.”

It means the participant observer, the one who doesn’t identity with his physical body or public persona, but still totally honors the experience/mission of incarnation.

I believe that this is the goal those of us who are overly consumed with our professional identity need to aspire to.

What we do is overrated. It is who we are in the doing of what we do, that is pivotal to our spiritual growth. Therefore, it matters not whether we are a national celeb, president, or a benighted soul eking out a living in the barrios.

What matters is the disposition of awareness we bring to every experience we create.

Is it a disposition of presence, kindness, reverence and compassion? Or is it one of gratuitous self-aggrandizement? In the final analysis, it will not be our profession, fame, money or social standing that we will be remembered for, but the moral and spiritual legacy we leave behind.


One of the many paradoxes we live by daily is: we are averse to change; yet we seek it out. Transformative and traumatic experiences can both be catalysts for meaningful change in our lives. We cannot predict how we will react in the face of an abrupt or paradigm-shifting change in our lives or society. But the surprising thing is, in such life-altering moments, we often surprise oursleves with the resilience, courage, and curiosity that emerges when we least expect it.

To learn more about how to adapt to significant life changes, and how to live a happier and healthier life because of (and not in spite of) them, I recommend the podast A Slight Change of Plans, hosted by Maya Shankar. It’s a good one!

And to learn how to create permanent behavioral changes in your life that you both desire and deserve ..

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