Where Have I Gone, and Where Am I Going?

I woke up this morning from an intense dream, so vivid and detailed, I had to walk my husband through it. As I talked, I realized I sounded slightly insane. And at the same time, I started to realize why I had had this dream.

Self-portrait under stress, 2007

I realized that I had not dealt with my transition from having some celebrity in my chosen profession to no longer having it. I had not yet mourned the dissolution of what I considered to be my primary identity. I look back on my great fortune of having an outstanding career as a business owner. My first husband Ray and I built a design firm that was well known and respected throughout Canada and much of the U.S. We made friends, we competed, we conquered, we were rewarded, and we had a blast.

We also had the responsibility, not only to our own family, but to the families of many other people. We had nights we couldn’t sleep and days of anxiety, even fear. But we also experienced intense joy, celebration and laughter. And, not in any way secondary to this, I know our two beautiful children suffered from both our physical and emotional absences. I can only imagine how their young minds processed the kind of energy we gave off with our discussions of work as a constant in our home. That is perhaps my biggest regret.

But when Ray got sick, we had to wind it back. Our company continued, but it had to change. We got smaller. We shifted from lofty corporate work to complex civic work. We began to help communities co-create their future identities. We helped them find ways to talk about and act upon sharing responsibility for their environment. We started to work more deeply in the realm of community building through design. This work feels more meaningful in many ways. But the endorphin highs are a thing of the past.

If anything, my drug of choice is now oxytocin —fueling love and responsibility for our planet, its people and our collective psyche. My drivers are empathy, belonging and understanding. I’m having to shift to other work, work that helps the world instead of helping me survive.

The process of aging, from an experience point of view, is fascinating. At “a certain age” you start to actually realize that you have some indeterminate—but definitely finite —amount of time. Your forever home, really is your forever home, unless they have to lock you up due to your loss of competence. Your choice of pet…how long will it live…will you outlive it? Will you have time to finish what you really want to do? What is it that you really want to do?

In my 20s, 30s, 40s and even early 50s, it kind of felt like I would live forever. My identity was my work. I was “known”. As I shift into consulting and teaching, I’m no longer leading the pack. I have had to accept following the bigger, stronger dogs.

Sometimes I feel like I should set myself adrift on an iceberg. What good am I now? But upon some reflection, I realize that being known is not the only definition of self. I don’t need the outside world to determine my worth. I only need my own caring, compassion and passion to make a difference. And I can do that at the community level, even the national level. But, I am also going to make a difference in my smaller world —my children, my grandchildren and my beloved new husband. I think the panicked dreams of loss will slip away and I can look back on that power identity as a chapter, not the book.



WIK*D Design Thinking for Social Change

My name is Casey Hrynkow. I am a design strategist, co-creation facilitator and teacher. Blog at http://bit.ly/2nGFo2u