Who Do You Think You Are and Is It Limiting You?

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” ~Pema Chodron

One of my yoga teachers, Johanna Aldrich, inspired me to inspect what I “thought” I was.

“This is what I am, this is what I am not, this is what I do, this is what I don’t do, this is what I like, that is what I don’t like.” All the stories and behavior patterns gathered in 40+ years that I had created to define myself.

Of course, I had reasons and whys behind all of these things I “thought” I was. I had tried a few of those things and long ago made my decisions but in some cases had never even tried. Some of the reasons were real and some were imagined.

But what are these things really but just stories?

They’re the stories that we tell ourselves over and over again in order to feel comfortable or hide from difficult realities. I avoided many things with my stories so I wouldn’t have to experience failure and disappointment—just wanting to feel loved, good enough, part of something. 

It’s interesting to me how the mind wants to have everything figured out. It provides us some sort of comfort. This can also be seen in victims of trauma and violence in a much more heightened way, but all of us have used our stories to try to gain ease of mind.

So I spent 2012 intentionally doing the opposite of what I would normally do. I tried for the first time and also re-tried many things with a beginner’s mind. I:

  • Went out on Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day, even though naysaying holidays was the norm for me.
  • Threw two different birthday parties for myself. Most of my friends never celebrated my birthday with me or even knew when it was because I didn’t tell them about it.
  • Kayaked alone, something I didn’t think I could do.
  • Snorkeled without a life jacket, after deciding on my 25th birthday that I didn’t like snorkeling.
  • Blew off all the meetings at my annual sales conference. Formerly, I was one of the few who would actually attend every event and meeting.
  • Went home for Thanksgiving and spent Christmas with my nieces. I hadn’t spent any time with my family and friends for the holidays in at least a decade.

These are just some of the things were opposites for me. I’m sure none of this sounds especially spectacular, but if you knew me for any length of time, you’d know that these were not things I would do.

I dove deeply into what I was actually thinking about these stories and why I was using them to define myself. I used meditation as my tool to examine my thoughts. I forced myself into many uncomfortable situations and had many revelations.

  • It was fun to be presented with a rose and hold hands in a restaurant on Valentines Day and also to wear green things and flashing shamrocks while drinking beer in a crowded bar on St Patrick’s Day. Who cares if I looked a little foolish?
  • My friends and the people who care about me will make time to come to not one but two different birthday celebrations. People will show up for me.
  • Kayaking in Kealakekua Bay with spinner dolphins jumping and playing around my boat was well within my ability and one of the more beautiful experiences of my life.
  • Snorkeling was a magical and tranquil activity that I love, and I am a much better swimmer than I thought I was.
  • I don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. I can be me and enjoy my time the way that I want to, even if that is alone, not caring a bit what other people think of that.
  • When I took the time to travel and be with family and friends for the holidays, I felt loved and appreciated. I love my family and friends and they love me right back.

In some ways, there was a certain ease to this.

Since I’d decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to do the opposite of what all of my stories had told me, I didn’t have to make any decisions along the way. All I had to do was pay attention to what my habits were telling me to do and then do the opposite.

There were moments of serene stillness and violent storms (both literally and emotionally). The mind will fight and complain to hang onto what it thinks it knows already. I laughed, cried, enjoyed, rediscovered, and newly discovered many things, but mostly I lived in a new light.

What I learned is that what I “think” has little to do with the real me. I can do many things that I thought I couldn’t. I can enjoy situations that I used to think were uncomfortable. I am much stronger and more capable than I could ever have imagined.

This experience has changed me. It has shown me the sweetness of each moment, helped me shed some of my unnecessary armor, and unraveled some of my attitudes where I needed to be not so tight.

I emerged a newly minted version of myself—someone more open than I ever thought possible to any and all the possibilities this beautiful life has to offer.

It was a true awakening. And now I feel, Yay new me!

I’m not saying that this was in any way at all an easy process. In fact, it was one of the most difficult undertakings of my life. Doing things that you have already convinced yourself that you can’t or won’t? Tough for sure, but, trust me, it’s well worth it.

Start small, pick one thing, challenge what you do and/or what you think, and see what happens. Throw yourself out of your nest of stories and try to fly. Open your mind to the possibility that you are not who you think you are and let it change you too.

Photo by Vinoth Chandar

About Jen Callan

Jen Callan is a volunteer yoga teacher, heartfelt witness and serious self-studier who used to think she was indecisive but now is not so sure. Jen has no website, blog or book yet. She can be reached at and found on her mat in Johanna’s class at Sonic Yoga NYC.

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  • antipodes3

    ha, i like your bio

  • David C

    Excellent post Jen! You have described in your post with real clarity how we have so much more to offer ourselves and others than we think. It’s often the case that we can really begin to challenge our identity if we give ourselves space to acknowledge habitual patterns/ways of thinking that no longer serve us. I have been on a similar journey in 2012 and really enjoyed the discoveries i made about myself and also the people around me (the affects of challenging your own identity is that you can begin to see others differently too). Like you, i found it difficult at first to find a level of comfort in uncomfortable situations. But the first step is often the biggest and when I gave myself permission to ignore past limiting influences the experiences were really beautiful. Thanks for your contribution and look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  • You’ve inspired me to do the same. I’m stuck in a rut, and I think this will help me dig my way out. Thank you

  • Kristi Ray

    I’m just moved to tears, Jen because I was swimming with those same pods of spinner dolphins at Kealakakua Bay last week! Stayed in the beautiful house with the lava rock wall on the edge of the bay closest to the Captain Cook monument for a week with my family and did some serious soul searching. It’s beautiful knowing those dolphins heal a lot of people.

  • Skye

    Beautiful! Thanks Jen 🙂

  • Melissa Straight

    Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Juanita

    Thank you so much

  • Pam

    Thanks so much for sharing. I realized a long time ago that I’m okay as long as I don’t listen to myself. Enjoy your journey!

  • GillyG

    Dearest Jen, I’ve have been grappling this week with severe anxiety and panic, for the sixth time in my life. I had just started to see that this comes when I am at a change point, when life opens up for me. Being a person who is “fearful” then defines the choices I make. I too was starting to think maybe it is all, as horrendously overwhelming as it feels, a story that I’m choosing to hold onto. Doing the opposite of each fear, small steps at a time is my escape route plan. Then I turn on my mail this morning and there was this post. I’m smiling, I’m hopeful x

  • Shelly

    Yes! Your friend, me, definitely loves you right back! 🙂 Beautiful writing, Jen. Thank you for letting me in by sharing this so I can to see more of you and know you better. XO

  • Giacomo

    Thank you for writing it! I enjoyed reading it! Will have to give it a shot!

  • vinoo choliparambil

    Hello Jen, nice post. Will try this approach in 2013.

  • Johanna_Galt

    “….used to think she was indecisive but now is not so sure..”
    Ha! Love the contradiction there 😉

    Thanks for the nudge to jump out of the nest. Sometimes, though, do you find that your “story” so to speak WAS right? What then?

  • Wow! Jen, this is truly the right message at the right time as my life is undergoing a major upheaval. I’m not at all surprised that this experiment you got so much out of was brutally hard because I truly believe that our greatest lessons are learned on the back of discomfort, fear and pain. Thank you for sharing! I also love reading an article from the perspective of a woman also in her forties… It’s a great time but just as I think I’m figuring life out it throws me a curve ball. Right in the eye! 😉 Cheers! Keep writing and sharing, please! xo

  • Jen Callan

    This was a fabulous experience for me that has continued on into 2013. It’s overall a good approach to life to operate with an open mind and not on some sort of auto pilot. Thank you for your kind comments.

  • Jen Callan

    Thank you for all of the kind words. Yes the forties are interesting and also challenging but greatly rewarding if you make it that way. Stay strong and keep going. I’m sure you have many beautiful moments on the horizon.

  • Jen Callan

    Then you just move forward with that information. Affirmed but open to possibilities that at some point the story can change and should be continually examined. Don’t let the stories run the decision. Decide on new experience instead.

    I also love the contradiction in that line 🙂

  • Jen Callan

    Thank you Vinoo. Best to you in your quest! 🙂

  • Jen Callan

    You are welcome. Best wishes to you in your discoveries 🙂

  • Jen Callan

    Thank you and Love you!!!

  • Jen Callan

    That is fantastic. So happy to hear we connected at just the right moment with just the words for you. I believe that anxiety does come from these stories so try your best to let them go. All the best to you in your journey.

  • Jen Callan

    Pam, Hahaha, yes stop listening to yourself. That also could have been the title. All the best to you!

  • Jen Callan

    You are very welcome!

  • Jen Callan

    You are welcome, my pleasure Melissa 🙂

  • Jen Callan

    Thanks Skye 🙂

  • Jen Callan

    Reading your reply gave me chills, yes this moment in this bay was a huge opening for me and I am happy you have felt also just how special that place is 🙂

  • Jen Callan

    Yay inspration!!! Go for it 🙂

  • Jen Callan

    Thank you 🙂