Who are you? In this episode Chad tells the story of how he became fixated on his identity as drum major of the marching band and what happened when that identity was lost.
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I could feel the electric in the air, the energy was flowing through my veins and I was on an adrenaline high like I had never felt before.
A home game this Saturday and 72,000 Razorback football fans were packed into Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium at the University of Arkansas.
100-yards of pristine, over-manicured, natural grass.
The 300+ member Razorback Marching Band was strategically positioned around the sidelines.
I look up to see 20:00 on the scoreboard. As soon as the clock starts to countdown the seconds, I take my first step.
The field was completely cleared except for one thing.
On the 50-yard line right in the middle of the field, below the bright lights, there I stood.
Dressed in an all white uniform, a silver sequin sash across my chest, a foot-long red plume shot from the top of my white hat.
I called the band to attention and gave the command to take the field for halftime.
The moment I had dreamed of since I was a little kid had just become reality.
My name is Chad Peevy, thank you for listening to my podcast!
Today we’re going to explore one of the 12 pillars of my Next Level Coaching program: Identity.
Sometimes we over-identify with one thing, which causes us to lose sight of who we are.
Too often we don’t really notice this is happening until that part of our identity is taken away from us.
That may be our identity as it is tied to a job title, a position we hold in our community, our place in the family, our attachment and relationship with someone else.
When that identity is stripped away, it leaves a giant void. What we fail to realize is that while that thing, whatever it was that went away, wasn’t our actual identity. That thing wasn’t who we really are, it’s just the thing that allowed us to express who we are for that season in our life.
A loss of identity can be traumatic and hurt like hell.
But it also creates an opportunity for us to discover our true selves and make significant and meaningful changes in our lives.
I want to share one of my identity stories with you.
It goes all the way back to middle school. I was a total band nerd.
But I didn’t join band because I was in love with any particular instrument or sound or because I had any real love for the music. In fact, I hadn’t heard any really great music at that stage in my life. If you had ask me who Mozart was I would probably have told you that I didn’t know her, but maybe she was an exchange student.
My dad took me to the football games every Friday night. It’s what you do in small towns in the south.
I mostly ran around and played during the game itself, it wasn’t until college that I knew anything about the sport of football itself.
So here I am, running around the football stadium like kids do and no matter what else was going on, I would stop as soon as the band took the field. I was mesmerized. The uniforms, the sparkles, the big hats, the color, the sound. I was in love. The object of my affection though, was the drum major.
I had no idea what the drum major was doing, and in fact, I didn’t know if he was a student or a teacher but I didn’t care, I was going to do that. I didn’t know how, but one day I would be in front of all these people waving my arms. I knew that was the most important role in the band, even if he didn’t make a single sound.
When I was in 6th grade it came time to sign up for band I started asking more questions about that drum major thing. I wanted to make sure they were putting me on the right path to get to that role.
It turns out though, that you can’t just sign up for marching band, you have to do concert band as well.
And oh, one more thing, you can’t actually be drum major until you’re in 8th grade, 2 years away.
Well, I was bummed but not deterred. Fine, what is concert band anyway? The band director explained what it was and then asked which instrument I would like to play.
I told him french horn. It was small and pretty and made a really cool sound.
“I’m sorry, you can’t play french horn,” the band director tells me, “a lot of other kids wanted to play it this year and we don’t have any more.”
My feathers were ruffled, but determined I said, “what about trombone?” The director agreed that with my long arms and my embouchure was suitable for trombone. He then tells my mother that we have to buy or rent a trombone for me to play. It was going to be $35 per month to rent.
Not sold on the idea that I was going to stick with band, my mother told me I had to choose an instrument that was school-owned and that I could use on loan.
The band director said, in what now seems like a cruel joke, that he knew just the instrument for me.
He goes to the shelves and pulls out case about double my width and half my height. “This is a baritone,” he said. And that was it, that’s how I wound up playing what I would later learn was a euphonium, or, as I would have to explain to anyone I ever met, a small tuba. I didn’t get my first or second choice of instrument, but honestly, I didn’t care. I was going to be the drum major.
Eighth grade comes around and it’s time for auditions. I make my candidacy known and begin to hide in my closet to practice my conducting skills. I could mark time, about-face, and march 8 steps in 5 yards with the best of them. I nailed the audition and won my spot on the podium.
I won again in 9th grade, 11th grade, and 12th grade – tradition and the band director’s rules prevented me from podium time in the 10th grade.
I went to the University of Arkansas to be in the Razorback Marching Band and in my sophomore year, when I became eligible, I auditioned for drum major and won
I went from a little kid sitting in the bleachers of a high school football game to drum major at Arkansas’ flagship university. I felt like a celebrity. The local newspaper even sent a reporter and photographer to interview me and they wrote up a big article about me in my hometown paper.
I fixated on my identity as drum major. Even the 2 years that I wasn’t eligible to be drum major, I just saw myself as the drum major in waiting. And I wonder what I missed out on – I could have explored so many different things outside of my band world.
I was fixated on my role, my title, my position. So fixated that when I wasn’t invited back to be drum major my junior year of college, I absolutely lost it. If I’m not the drum major, who am I?
That season of life, life as I knew it was suddenly over.
More than just embarrassed, I felt like I had been gutted of my identity.
So, naturally, I acted out. The night of the auditions, after they announced my replacement, I didn’t know how to process it – I didn’t know how to make sense of what had just happened.
Marty Reynolds was the assistant band director and just happened to have been my band director from high school. I babysat his kids from time to time so I knew where he lived.
Like a lunatic I thought it would be a good idea to show up at his house that night, in search for an explanation. Looking back, I realize that was pretty creepy and probably scared the shit out of him.
But he was sympathetic to me, he invited me in and let me cry on his couch. In the weeks that followed I started shopping other schools, taking auditions and interviews. I was accepted with scholarship everywhere that I applied, but I turned them all down and decided to stay at U of A.
I don’t think what I experienced was all that unusual. Think of the high school football players who never move on from those days of glory. The PTO mom who has no sense of herself outside of that role. The workaholic who is so fixated on the work that the work defines his entire existence.
Study after study has shown that people who retire early, die sooner. One study even suggest that when you retire at 66 instead of 65, mortality rates drop by 11%
When you get into the research there are a lot of factors that contribute, I would suggest a loss of identity has a place among them.
To be fair, there are arguments on both sides of the question because so many people retire for different reasons, it’s hard to determine causality.
When I went to research how I explain identity in this way, my research came up dry.
So for the purposes our discussion here, I’m going to call this identity phenomenon as “Manifest Identity Fixation.” That’s a term that I made up that we’ll use to explain identity in this context.
What I mean is that we fixate on the outwardly recognized role and not on the internal attributes that we possess that makes us good at that role.
We don’t see ourselves as those great things, only the vehicle through which we express those attributes.
For example, I got fixated on drum major, but not things like leadership skills, communication skills, confidence, performance skills, and quite honestly, a degree of narcissism that made me a good drum major.
I fixated on the manifestation of my attributes expressed, not the attributes themselves, or more bluntly, who I am.
Why does this matter?
Because a manifest identity fixation limits our perspective on our abilities and our potential. It keeps us small.
It limits the scope of what is possible for our lives. It keeps us in that job, in that marriage, in that fixed mindset.
It tells us that how I’ve chosen to express myself, which is more often than not something we fell into and didn’t consciously chose, is all I am and all I’m capable of. We get comfortable with whatever that thing is and we stay there. For some, that may be enough. For others, and strive for our next level and struggle in the comfortable because we know we are capable of more.
It’s like the first ice cream you tried was chocolate, it satisfied your craving and so you never try any other flavors.
A healthier response for me would have been to recognize that these skills I have are what made me a good drum major, but those same skills would also make me good at other things.
Drum major was the medium through which I expressed who I was during that time of my life. Taking that away didn’t diminish who I am, it simply required me to find other ways to express who I am.
When I’m working with coaching clients who are in transition, they’ll say things like, “I’ve been a musician for so long. I don’t think I could do anything else.” OR “I’ve been a mom for so long. I don’t think I have the skills to do anything else.”
That’s a really limited perspective.
Good musicians have incredible self-discipline, unrelenting work ethic and are typically very punctual.
Stay at home moms are incredible managers. They keep a small organization running smoothly. They manage schedules, operations, and logistics daily.
These are desirable, transferable skills.
The kids will grow up. The job may go away. Your days as an aspiring solo musician, the next NFL draft pick, or Olympic athlete may have passed. But that doesn’t define you. You’re bigger than that.
Life is made up of seasons. Those seasons are partially observed by changes in how we express ourselves through a role we play during that time. Being in touch with our authentic identity is recognizing that no matter the season, we will show up fully as the person we have worked so hard to become.
Not being small means fully expressing who we are and who we are becoming. It’s not limited by role, title, or position. Because what makes us who we are is bigger than can be contained by one dimension or manifestation of those attributes.
I’m grateful that I was a drum major. But with perspective, I’m more grateful that I had an opportunity during that season of my life to express myself, that I got to meet some amazing life-long friends, and that I did some growing up through that experience.
I mentioned earlier that this was just one of my identity stories. I’ve fallen into this trap more than once in my life. It seems that when the universe wants you to learn a lesson, she’ll give you multiple opportunities to learn it.
As we continue on our path of personal development and seek congruence with our identity, we will get what we colloquially referred to as “comfortable in our own skin.”
Who we believe we are will dictate our habits, our environment, our happiness and our success.
Our personal development is based on an idea of our best self. You can’t hold an idea. You can’t reach an idea. You can’t arrive at an idea. You can only imagine it. That’s what makes it an idea. An evolving idea at best.
Every next level of your life is going to require a different version of you.
This can be extremely frustrating for those of us who like black and white answers, data, and tangible results. But as much as I’ve tried to make it so, that’s just not life.
So honor your journey. Take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Continue to strive for the idea.
And if you haven’t ever or if you haven’t in a while, ask yourself today: Who am I?
Write it down or start to think about it. How would I describe who I am ift hat description couldn’t include your job, your title or your family role?
Who are you?
Thank you for listening this week. If you would like to find a coach or become a life of business coach, visit InstituteForProgress.com