Thursday, December 2, 2010

Three Tips for Coping with FIPS (Formerly Important Person Syndrome)

I had a dream last night that Oprah called.

It's not quite as delusional as it sounds. Some years ago, I appeared regularly on national television to discuss my books or issues related to teenagers or the psychology of daily living. I actually did appear on OPRAH twice, one of those times with my friend Chuck. In my dream, Chuck and I were invited back on the show as Oprah was winding down this year and revisiting as many of her previous guests as possible.

But the dream is still unlikely. It has been some time since I've been on national television or written an article for a national magazine -- all events that were commonplace for me at one time. The cooling of my once hot career has been slow but relentless and now my former life seems...well, a bit like a dream.

Just yesterday, someone identified me as "the person who hunkers down in the back row of Zumba so no one can see her."  That would be me.

Our friends Linda and Jay, who live two doors down from us, introduced us to the concept of FIPS or Formerly Important Person Syndrome as we discussed "who are we now?" over dinner not long ago.

We're the same people we always were, of course, regardless of what we do and where we live. But some transitions are harder than others.  There are former executives facing retirement -- forced or chosen -- feeling suddenly lost. There are people who fill the gaps left by careers that have crashed or simply run their course with frantic activities -- or who rule political action groups or community organizations with fierce dedication. There are those who look back longingly at the past shrugging off the present as time to be endured not enjoyed. There are those who think back with nostalgia at the time their sullen teenagers or opinionated young adult children were once wide-eyed toddlers who thought Mom and Dad knew everything.

If you feel symptoms of FIPS creeping up on you, what can you do?

Concentrate on now, not then.  Our rich histories, both personal and professional, are an important part of our lives. But today is equally important. Today is a gift, an opportunity. What will you do with it?
If you're looking back at what once was, you'll miss the wonder of today.

When I think of my life today, I can't remember a time when I felt so happy and so at peace. When I look back honestly at past years when I was sort of, almost famous, I remember feelings of stress, the anguish of battling a weight problem that was all too evident on camera, the loneliness of constant travel. I don't think I enjoyed it as much as I could have. All of those things are nice to have done. But being right here, now, is thrilling. I love having more control over my time. I love having the opportunity to get to know my neighbors. I love having the chance to spend more time, at last, with my husband Bob and time to play with my three cats. I remember Aunt Molly telling me that she greeted every day -- after she left her long-time government speech-writing position -- with joy and the sentiment: "Today is mine!"  It's quite a different mindset from those hectic times of feeling, correctly or incorrectly, that bosses or editors or deadlines or circumstances owned me.

Total up what you've learned from your life and career transitions.  We grow from all of our experiences, the highs and the lows.  You can grow in patience and wisdom as you struggle with your ornery teenager. You can gain perspective from painful, scary experiences like losing a job or struggling, as so many do today, with finances.  Obviously, none of us would volunteer quickly for such hard lessons. But when you're in the middle of personal trials, it can help to think about what this can teach you and how your growth through this experience can help life to be different. If, like many, you find yourself underemployed and taking a career step-down, it can be an important move toward differentiating between who you really are and what you do.  

No matter what your age or life stage, make a distinction between who you are and what you do -- or have done.  When your career defines you and your value as a human being, the loss of this can be devastating. In the same way, building an identity around being a mother can put you on shaky ground when the kids leave the nest. Valuing yourself as a person, seeing your kindness, resourcefulness, generosity and other good qualities as your defining traits, can give you a lifelong identity that is independent of career or other life achievements. Life circumstances can and most certainly will change as we grow through middle age and beyond. Children grow up. Careers peak and dwindle. Strength and abilities change with age,  always leading to a new turn in your life path. When you have a strong sense of and appreciation for the unique person you are, whatever your current career or life circumstances, you never lose your essence.  

Today is yours!

Today is mine -- a joyful, rewarding gift of a day -- whether or not Oprah ever calls.

No comments:

Post a Comment