When I found out in October that I was going to lose my job at the end of the school year, my life went into a complete tail spin. I had been a teacher for almost 20 years and this news was such a complete gut punch that I knew it was time for me to leave traditional teaching in the public school system forever. In the weeks and months that followed, I did a lot of soul searching, writing, crying and talking with friends, family and daily with my husband. One suggestion he gave me was to create an identity stack to figure out what was core to my being. The idea is to brainstorm all the words that you identify with you. Step number two is to put them in order of importance. I grabbed a stack of notecards and just started writing down anything I could think of. I have no idea if my list is longer or shorter than normal or if having 60+ items is totally normal. My original list was in absolutely no order whatsoever. When I tried to put items in a priority order, it became overwhelming and I quickly abandoned that idea. Here is my list:

  1. Host
  2. People storyteller
  3. Blogger
  4. Teacher
  5. Writer
  6. Networker
  7. Creative
  8. Artist
  9. Photographer
  10. 52 Framer
  11. Wife
  12. Friend
  13. People lover/ people hater
  14. Runner
  15. Nature lover
  16. Culture lover
  17. German speaking
  18. Traveler
  19. Language learner
  20. Self-published author
  21. Ed Techie
  22. TV Watcher
  23. Trekkie
  24. Whovian
  25. Pour Painter
  26. Crafter
  27. Card Maker
  28. The World Needs More Love Letters Letter Writer
  29. PADS volunteer
  30. LEGO builder
  31. Crocheter
  32. Doodler
  33. Wax sealer
  34. Colored hair
  35. Loyal friend
  36. American
  37. Caucasian
  38. Female
  39. Yogi
  40. Italian
  41. German
  42. Dick Pond Wednesday Night Warrior Captain
  43. Solution Seeker
  44. Do-er (get shit done)
  45. Love working with kids
  46. Volunteer
  47. Dog lover / serious dog want-er
  48. Foodie
  49. International recipe lover
  50. New recipe enthusiastic tryer
  51. Care-r
  52. Helper
  53. Entertainer
  54. Fearless in the kitchen
  55. Cook-er
  56. Baker
  57. Homemade ice cream maker
  58. Homemade sausage maker
  59. Homemade pasta maker
  60. Homemade is better person
  61. Coffee drinker
  62. Sweets lover
  63. Coffee shop lover

Instead of trying to prioritize the cards,  I started putting the cards into categories that were similar and held the items that were most important to me. There were definitely items on my list that were less essential to the soul searching for Jen 2.0. I just put those into a miscellaneous category and eventually discarded them. 

My Power Categories are:

Key characteristics. These items are part of my core being. If you were to ask anyone close to me, they would use these words to describe me.  As the items started falling into natural categories, I learned a lot about myself and the different paths I could take. – 

  • Get sh*t done
  • Helper
  • Creative
  • Love students / underdog
  • Runner / lover of nature

Wellness. While these items would not factor into my next career per se, they would be instrumental in making sure I come out of the other end of this process with as few scars as possible. 

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Running
  • Nature

Culture. This was the core of my career as a language teacher, but it is also part of my being. I love learning new languages and learning about new cultures. We have had so much fun with our International Foodie Map. These items made me look hard at the idea of starting an experiential travel company that does not just check bucket list monuments off a list, but rather organizes experiences travelers will remember for a lifetime.

  • Travel
  • Foodie
  • Baking
  • Cooking

Creativity. Expressing myself through various mediums has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It will serve as an outlet for the remainder of my days. While I know that there are a myriad of artists and writers who make a living with their craft, I don’t want my love for these activities to be ruined by putting my feeling of worth in whether or not people buy what I produce.

  • Writer
  • Blogger
  • Artist
  • Storyteller

Entertainer. I can lose myself for hours in the kitchen baking or preparing a special meal. I love traveling and exploring new cultures. I love meeting people. These ideas have culminated in the idea of opening a bed and breakfast at some point down the road or hosting guests from around the world in an AirBnB. It is not the right time to explore that idea, but down the road, I hope so. 

  • Foodie
  • Hosting
  • Cooking
  • Baking
  • Travel

So where has all of this soul searching led me? As of today, I have decided to focus my efforts on the not-for-profit sector. I am volunteering for a local homeless shelter and I am loving the work we are doing there. I have signed up for a grant writing course through our local community college, so that I can learn this important skill. Most importantly, I have my eyes on the end goal, which is to run my own NPO. More on that later. 

Where does creating an identity stack fit into creativity? I can see using it for so many different activities other than just figuring out a new career (although that was really helpful!). You could create stacks for characters in a story or novel you are writing. You could use it to better understand people in your life. You could create it just to figure out what your priorities are and to potentially help you work through a block. 

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