I recently heard a friend describe a dilemma: She had been asked to collaborate with two other independent colleagues to create a proposal and she was having difficulty because they would all be equal in the project and she is so accustomed to being in control in her work, she was afraid to move forward with them because it meant giving up control.

I have been thinking about identities lately–how we hold on to the ones we are comfortable with even when by doing so, we impede our own progress. I’m not even sure we see them as identities when that is happening, because our behavior seems so natural to us, we don’t even realize what we’re doing.

One identity I recently identified in myself is the dual persona of “do-gooder and rotten-worthless”–although I have been sort of pridefully hanging out with the do-gooder side, with the notion that she was preferable. In fact, I didn’t really want to know she was in perfect balance with the rotten-worthless side–because that was the part of myself I was afraid to face.

We all grow up with insecurities, and because of the way my family operated, I looked at the times I was punished, banished, reprimanded, grounded–all as evidence that I was rotten-worthless down deep inside. There had to be something wrong with me or else why wasn’t I getting to live the life I wanted? Why else did I feel so abandoned and alone in the midst of my family?

Years and a lot of effort toward self- and other-awareness have taught me that it is endemic to the human condition to feel that way, and I am now grateful that I have been challenged by life, because the degree to which I have been challenged and able to move through it seems to have a direct correlation to my ability to live freely with confidence today.

So that identity, albeit partially secret, has now been exposed–and because I no longer need her on a daily basis to get me going and functional, I find she has retired, gone to the beach for much needed R&R after years of being a driving motivator responsible for keeping me going. And it feels scary to be in the unknown territory of not having her to fall back on–it means a new identity is unfolding in me, and I don’t know her as well. I feel more vulnerable and uneasy, but I really don’t have a choice because the other identity doesn’t fit me anymore. So who am I actually? More of myself, but still learning about that.

Which brings me back to the opening story of my friend and her control issues. Isn’t that really about her being challenged to find a new identity? One that can collaborate, that doesn’t have to control every aspect of the project? It is scary to allow herself to change into this new persona, but wouldn’t it be worth it? Would she rather hold on to the old one and not get the project? Was she really all that in control in the first place, or was it an illusion?

I remember how excited and nervous I was when I went to the first grade (that’s when we started school in the olden days….). I sort of feel like that again, and as scary as it is, I really want to see what happens next!