Recently, my daughter and I went to a church service with friends and the topic was Personal Brand Identity. It was an interesting topic to think about. We watched a powerful video about Tim Shaw, a former Tennessee Titans player, who talked about the fact that growing up his brand identity in high school and college and for much of his professional career was that of a great football player. When his body began shutting down and he was diagnosed with ALS, his brand identity changed from a football player to a person with this ALS disease. It took this significant event in his life for him to realize that he had let other people’s perceptions of him become his identity. He came to the realization that he was who he had always been, Tim Shaw, best friend to God.
This story really struck me and I could completely resonate with his words. When my ex-husband and I first separated, I struggled with telling people what was going on in my life because of how it would look to others. Growing up in an Indian household and in the Indian culture, I knew that you keep family things to yourself and what you present to others is a great reflection on not only you, but your parents and how they raised you. Even once we decided to divorce, it was difficult to talk about what was happening with certain people because of the fear I had about how they would perceive me. Over time, I realized that I had nothing to be ashamed of and that if these people were my real friends, they would still love me and support me because I was me, not just half of a couple. Some friends did fall away and distance themselves. This was one of the things I had feared and it made me feel sad and disappointed and question what was wrong with me. I didn’t understand it at first – I was the same person, wasn’t I? I had to learn that it was ok because they couldn’t be the kind of friend and supporter I needed; I had to make sure that I was surrounding myself with people who were positive and supportive and encouraging.
I was married for almost 18 years and my identity during that period was that of a wife and later, a mother. When the divorce happened, I lost my identity as a wife and that was extremely difficult. It was time to start over and rediscover what I liked again and who I really was as a person. I remember my friend telling me that when she got divorced, she went to the grocery store and was almost paralyzed because she didn’t even know what to buy anymore because she didn’t remember what she liked. She got so used to buying groceries that her husband liked and now she was confronted with the realization that it was just about her and what she wanted. That feeling can be extremely scary and overwhelming at first, but eventually it gets easier and can even become freeing.
For me, a huge milestone in this journey of rediscovery was my Zumba class. I had always loved to dance growing up so this was a perfect fit. At first, I was hesitant to walk into a class by myself where I didn’t know anyone (this was completely out of my comfort zone). The instructor was so welcoming and even though it felt like everyone else knew the routines so well and I had no idea what I was doing, I came back. The more I came back, the easier it got and eventually, I actually knew some of the routines. It took some time, but Zumba allowed me to rediscover my love of dance and without even realizing it, my self-confidence and self-esteem grew to the point where I went from dancing in the back of the class to closer to the front. I even lead dances in my class now and was recently certified to become a Zumba instructor, something I never thought I would do. Most importantly, I gained a whole new support system of wonderful and encouraging friends who I can count on for laughs, inspiration, good food and good times.
I have also found solace in reconnecting with old friends who knew me in high school or college before I got married. There’s an odd feeling of comfort and nostalgia that I can’t describe when I am in the presence of these old friends. I’ve made it a point over the past few years to call up an old friend and catch up or find a way to visit old friends when we’re traveling. It has done great things for my soul.
Each person has to find their own milestones and triggers in their journey, but it’s important to take the time to find out who you really are on the inside – your brand identity, or your purpose in life; God made each of us with a purpose in mind and it’s our job to find out what that purpose is. I’m still working on finding my purpose, but for now, maybe it’s being a desi single working mom who’s doing the best she can to make her girls proud and show them that they can do anything and helping friends who are struggling along the way.