What To Do When Losing Your Work Identity and Starting Over

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In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with a speaker and award-winning entrepreneur Jennifer Ables on losing our work identity, discovering an identity that matters, and the role work identity plays on our mental health.

A few reasons why she is awesome — she is a professional speaker, focusing on gratitude, resilience and reinventing yourself. She’s the founder of Soldiers Who Salsa, an organization using dance as a form of therapy for wounded, ill and injured service members. Her work has gotten her invited to attend the inaugural White House Summit on “The United State of Women” as a changemaker, a nominee for “Woman of the Year” by San Diego Magazine and “Women Who Mean Business” by the San Diego Business Journal. And she has been recognized for Outstanding Service by the California State Senate.

Connect with, and learn more about Jennifer on her…

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KEY TAKEAWAYS 

  • Importance of separating personal identity from roles
  • Value of recognizing and embracing our unique qualities
  • Resilience through grounded identity
  • Redefining identity and happiness
  • Finding the right fit professionally
  • Separating work and self-worth

“I think of it like a tree. My roots are who I am… I’m a passionate individual. I’m a creative individual. I’m kind. I’m loving. I am all sorts of things that I bring to life… jobs are going to change. Roles are going to change. That’s when those winds of change come, I think of the jobs or roles like branches. They might break off and blow away with the wind, but my roots, I’m grounded.” 

Jennifer Ables

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW

Russel Lolacher: And on the show today we have Jen Ables and here is why she is awesome. She’s a professional speaker focusing on gratitude, resilience, and reinventing yourself, which is going to have a bit about what we’re going to talk about today. She’s the founder of Soldiers Who Salsa, an organization using dance as a form of therapy for wounded, ill, and injured service members.

Her work has gotten her invited to attend inaugural White House Summit events called the United State of Women as a changemaker, she’s been recognized as. Nominee for Woman of the Year by San Diego magazine, Woman Who Mean Business by San Diego Business Journal. And she’s been recognized for outstanding service by the California State Senate.

Oh, I should mention, I don’t want to go any further without mentioning this, Jen. She’s also a murder mystery dinner host in San Diego for the Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Show. Cause she was bored. And apparently all the other things weren’t keeping her busy enough. So she needed to do a nice warm place for people to be killed in.

Congratulations. Thank you. Fantastic. Welcome to the show, Jen.

Jennifer Ables: Thank you. Thank you. Murder’s got to be in the title.

Russel Lolacher: There you go. Fair comment. I don’t know if I can put it in the murder in the podcast title, but we’ll go from here. Before we get any further, we have to set the table for our murder mystery host and start it with the first question we ask all of our guests, which is what’s your best or worst employee experience?

Jennifer Ables: You alluded to my best. And because I don’t usually like to follow rules, I’m going to give you two best. The one that you alluded to in the intro there of being invited by the Obama administration to a summit at the White House for the work we were doing with our charity. It’s, that was like peak moment, right?

As you mentioned the charity that I created, we were teaching dances and adaptive therapy. And so the work that we were recognized for at the White House Summit was specifically on how we were using dance for female veterans overcoming post traumatic stress and military sexual trauma. So we had created a completely out of the box sort of therapy, and it was just incredible to be honored by the White House in that way.

So that’s the number one. Closely tied though to that was the… our programs were all over the nation. And then we also began sponsoring the salsa nights in Kandahar, Afghanistan. And one day I showed up at our office and there was a box for me. I had no idea what it was from, but it had the PO box from From Kandahar and I open it and it’s a U. S. flag folded in the triangle. And it came with a certificate that said this flag has been flown in your honor over the airbase in Kandahar and I just lost, I like, I still get chills, I just, I like, I lost it because I was oh, I’m like teary. I was so grateful for the work we were allowed to do and that people gave us the space to do and for these heroes that are over there, sacrificing their lives, putting their lives in danger in Afghanistan for them to thank me.

I was like, wow, I was just incredible. It was like one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Russel Lolacher: I can’t even imagine of being in that space of feeling that honor, but it also really reinforces the importance of people feeling and needing the value of their work to matter. Obviously you’re doing something that’s above and beyond, and not many people are starting charities, but at the same time, there is that connective tissue for the work you’re doing versus does it matter?

Is it resonating? Is it making a difference? I can’t imagine that, that how do you strike 10 at a 10 when you get that back and go, Oh, okay, this good.

Jennifer Ables: Yeah. It’s like I said, amazing. And I’m rarely speechless. And that was one of those moments.

Russel Lolacher: It’s a good thing you’re on a podcast now, Jen, to talk.

Jennifer Ables: I know.

Russel Lolacher: As someone who’s bounced around, I don’t mean bounce around in a bad way. That cause that’s always sounds bad or oh, you can never… but someone who has so many interests and you’re investing yourself in so many different things, it’s interesting we’re going to talk about identity today. Because it’s funny too, because when we pre talked before the show, identity was we needed to clarify ourselves as to what we were talking about when we meant identity. Thankfully we’re both on the same page, but it’s still, it still reinforces the fact that we should, we should define what we mean when we’re talking about identity today.

Jennifer Ables: I, I totally agree because identity is all over and it’s different things for different people. And in the context of how I think about it, it’s who am I outside of my job, outside of all the different roles that I take on? How do I identify? And what I’m most passionate about is having people separate that their identity being their job.

Cause when I did that, it led to a huge downfall, a burnout, a crash, one of the worst depressions of my life. Because I had those two things so enmeshed with each other. I identified as an executive director, as a founder of an organization, and I wrapped all my worth into that. And I think what’s important is pulling out my personal identity separate from my job, my role, all of the different things that I take on and being grounded in that.

Russel Lolacher: And what was the benefit of doing that? Because so many people like, so what do you do? Like the first thing when people introduce themselves, it’s not only their name, but their occupation. It’s so immediate. What do you do? Blah, blah, blah, blah. Do you have hobbies or what? Who are you as a person?

So I can see this being huge. So what was the benefit for you to go, okay, here’s the boundary.

Jennifer Ables: The benefit only came after the crash, right? You think you learn most from your mistakes. Where it has benefited me since then is that when things change and things are always going to change, right? Every world is constantly full of changes. I can ride those winds of change much better now that I’m anchored in who I am. I think of it like a tree. My roots are who I am, right? My roots keep me grounded. I’m a passionate individual. I’m a creative individual. I’m kind. I’m loving. I am all sorts of things that I bring to life. to a job. So jobs are going to change. Roles are going to change. That’s when those winds of change come, I think of the jobs or roles like branches. They might break off and blow away with the wind, but my roots, I’m grounded. Like I know who I am. So when recently a job that I loved, changed. It was created during COVID. Now, not that we’re post COVID. I definitely don’t want to say that. But, because we’re in a different space than we were in 2020, the role has ended. And I was able to say, Oh okay, sure. Sure. Shucks, I wish that didn’t happen. Cause I really loved what I was doing, but I’m not defined by that job. I know who I am. I’m very grounded in what I am. And I know that’s the value I bring wherever I go. And that nothing can take that away from me. Cause I own that.

Russel Lolacher: So the benefit you’re talking is of freedom?

Jennifer Ables: A freedom. I’d say also a confidence and calm when people ask, Oh my God, are you okay? After literally it was just a month ago and I was like, I’m fine. And people expected to like upheaval and anxiety. And what I, which I probably would have felt in the past. And the nonprofit did end in 2018 and I wasn’t in that space.

My whole identity was being a founder, being an executive director when the organization closed. Then who am I? And I had no idea. I couldn’t, tell you because everything, all my value, all my worth was wrapped up in that job. So when it went away, I had no idea who I was, what was my purpose anymore. And if I didn’t know, like part of the depression is if I don’t know who I am, I’m questioning why I am and that can get real dark. So learning through that to become more grounded, to be really confident in who I am, recognize these gifts that I have. I’m a great teacher just because I don’t teach in this venue anymore doesn’t mean I can’t teach anymore.

And to teach requires compassion. I can be compassionate in a lot of different ways. So for me the learning part was now that I know and now that I’m grounded, you can’t shake me.

Russel Lolacher: Let’s reverse engineer that a little bit. So what was the path you were along that led you to having to define a separate identity? Because you’re obviously having to get to a point where this is a need. So what was the path that you were going along that others might need to be more aware of?

Jennifer Ables: Fantastic question. And for anybody who’s experienced burnout, I feel like they’ll really identify with how this is feeling in running that nonprofit… nonprofits. Hard. We were real heavy on the non side of profit. So in using, and I’ll tie this into both like identity piece there too in.

In running an organization, trying to start it from scratch and trying to get it off the ground, creating something from nothing, entrepreneurship would relate to this as well of it relied on all of these things, right? Like my creativity, my compassion, all of the things that are my gifts. But I focused on that was my role, right?

So when the organization had to fold, before that, I was stressed, so stressed out that I got to a point where I felt like a failure versus something just, sometimes things just don’t work out. But I was, if this organization is crumbling, I have failed and not only that, but I am a failure and that’s how like how much my whole worth and identity was wrapped up into this organization I created, being a founder. That it’s gone. I’m gone. And the stress leading up to that, I had pneumonia six times in the year prior to all of this. I let so much stress get to me, and I was taking on so much that I just shut my body down completely. So when I finally let go, I was in this space, like I said, of, I don’t know who I am?

I’ve wrapped up everything in my value, my worth into this job and I just lost. And fortunately for me, I have, an incredible network of friends and family. One of my friends introduced me to Brene Brown’s work and I just started really working on myself. Rock bottom is a great place to get a solid foundation to continue to build back up.

So it was an ugly place to get there. And I don’t wish that upon anyone, but I also, in looking back, I don’t know where I would have learned to separate the two. Does it have to come through failure? Can you learn from other people? Can other people, that’s my hope. My hope that other people can realize that, Oh gosh, that’s what, that’s something that I’m doing.

And start to peel those things apart. Cause I sure have no idea where I would have learned that. It’s not something that taught me in business school. And I have a degree in insurance. It’s really hard to just, I don’t want to injure you against that.

Russel Lolacher: Fair. So the worst has happened. The organization has gone away. Your self, your sense of identity has gone with it. Your next steps are, it sounds like depression. It sounds like some serious mental health hits. So you’re doing all that work to, of the foundational work just to even just get to baseline. Where do you start defining, once you get to baseline, where do you start redefining your identity? What does that look like? Where do you start?

Jennifer Ables: For me, the process that I took was where are the points, what are the times in my life where I have felt the most alive? Where have I felt like the most me, when do people say, you’re glowing with positivity like that. And I think of glowing as it’s like a fire. Which is related to burnout, right? Cause your fire burns out. But I started thinking about where were those moments? Where do I, where did I feel that? And I started, like I mentioned earlier, it was teaching. I love to teach. And so I wanted to like an onion peel that back. Although onions are terrible. I need a better. You know what I’m saying. You know

Russel Lolacher: Workshop it. We’ll workshop it. It’s all good.

Jennifer Ables: Like a flower. I had to peel back the petals of… so what is it about teaching that you love? What is that about? And I’m like I love connecting with people. Why do you love connecting people? Cause I’m curious about people and I’m naturally curious and I know I have a gift of laughter and humor, being able to connect with people and that brings me joy.

So I have joy and I can get joy through teaching. So I started to piece out in all of these different roles that I take, whether it’s work or whether it’s personal life. Where do I feel the best about myself? Where have I lost myself in that flow when I have no idea that time has passed? That where is that on stage?

I love, I do improv. I used to do musical theater. Time was completely irrelevant to me. What was I doing? I I was expressing, I’m an artist, so you know, I’m expressing joy. I’m expressing my feelings. When I’m doing those things, I come alive. So that’s who I am. I’m joyful. I’m creative, I’m compassionate, I’m all of these things, and that’s how I wanna identify now going forward, that’s who I want to be, and I wanna bring that person into the roles I take on, whether it’s an employment role, but also in personal relationships, that’s, where I want to be when I’m with my best friend having coffee. I want to bring my loving compassionate kind self. That’s my purpose now instead of oh, my purpose is to heal people through dance. My purpose is this to teach people the cha cha. These those can fall away cause I know who I am.

Russel Lolacher: So you’re building a new identity based on previous experience, previous feelings, previous…

Jennifer Ables: Yes.,

Russel Lolacher: Is that what I’m getting? You’re, it’s just you’re redefining of what made you before you lost identity.

Jennifer Ables: Correct and then I think step two of that is You know, I’m responsible for my own happiness, so if I’ve lost joy, my job now is to find joy again. You gotta have different sources, right? Cause sometimes things are gonna be depleted. What brings me joy? What brings me joy is having coffee with a friend.

It’s taking a walk with my dog. I know how to get myself back to joy. And that’s my job is in that step two of when you, when I do feel out of balance, it’s my job to go find it and fill my tank back up.

Russel Lolacher: So how do you apply or pitch jobs based on this new identity? How do you know, or look for the red flags of this doesn’t fit who I am now, or, or, it totally aligns.

Jennifer Ables: Mostly that if I’m going to be put in a role where I don’t get to use my gifts, I know it’s not a good fit for me. When I ask about the corporate culture and I said we are we doing a lot of spreadsheets? And you’ll be doing like, Oh, BING! Not. That doesn’t use my gift of creativity.

That doesn’t use, that’s a different side of the brain. And that’s a different person. So I’m asking what is what does, the ideal candidate for this job? What do they look like to you asking a potential employer that, what does that look like for you?

What does define success for me? Because if their vision is completely out of line with my vision, and if I don’t see a way I can bring myself into that, my full self to that, then it’s, I know it’s not the right fit for me.

Russel Lolacher: Did you lose your values in losing your identity or did you reassess them? Like, where did your values go in all this?

Jennifer Ables: I, it’s the same to me, very tied in, is that and with a lot of other people that I’ve talked to that has jobs have changed because job is where I get paid equals value, right? So if I’m only valuing my worth at my job and the job doesn’t… where is my value? So my, my own values have to be separate from money value. And I feel like I’ve always had values that guided me. I don’t know that I would have created a charity of just… cause it seemed like something fun to do on a Friday, of these values of, treating people the way I want to be treated and the things that have made me happy in the past, the things that have brought me joy in the past, maybe I can pass that on to someone else. I started as a dance student and then became a dance teacher. I loved what it did for me as a student, and I wanted to give that back to someone else. I’m always about that cycle of giving back, using the gifts I have.

That’s one of the, my core values of what, and who I am. And I think that I always felt it, but it wasn’t until that rock bottom that I was like, I really need to be solid on that too. Who I am, what do I value, how do I want to, how do I want to show up in this world?

Russel Lolacher: What do you say to somebody that might be like that’s nice to say, I have bills to pay. That must be nice to do. Sure. Your identity is to change, but you know what? You need a job in the meantime because there’s there’s things you got to support. What do you say that person that just doesn’t get it that they understand work equals money equals you have to.

Jennifer Ables: I don’t disagree, there are times when that’s going to be, but if I expect the job to give me all of those things, then I’m putting too much pressure on the job to give me some sort of satisfaction, right? I’ve got to find something else that I, enjoy. Like I said, I do improv. I host a murder mystery.

I do a lot of other things and not all of them are tied to any kind of financial part. If I’m not getting you know, if I have just a job, I have to do.. There’s a, have you read the book Sparked? Jonathan Feels Sparked, he talks about how can you find a way to bring that into your role? I might not love the work I’m doing, but is there a way for me to become like an advocate helping people at work in my current role and exploring that? Talking to human resources, talking to the people who might have the power to make something like that happen for me at work. And then at some point, realize that whether it can happen or can’t happen.

It’s my job find it elsewhere.

Russel Lolacher: So what’s the feeling in the new role, in the new job in the, with the separation of that distance between the work and who you are, how does it benefit your engagement within that new job?

Jennifer Ables: For me, it’s the sense of calm that I feel. I don’t, I separate like anxiety from excitement. There’s something new. It’s not anxiety. It’s excitement about something new and being open to learning and knowing that I’m so self aware now of that identity piece of me, that if something is out of alignment.

Don’t just quit right away. That’s… old me would have been like burn the ships. Let’s go. I’m not, I’m done, but sitting with it, figuring out, is there a way for me to do this? Is there a way for me to bring more of who I am into this role? And it’s more I’m more open. I would say to looking at all the different possibilities in the past, I might’ve just been like tunnel vision.

This is my job and this is what I have to do. And I would say, especially coming out of college. Having my first job as an insurance underwriter. There’s no one who, when you’re a child, you ask them, what do you want to be when you grow up? No one says insurance underwriter. If someone has, please contact me and I will absolutely correct my statement on that.

I was going, into that job and I didn’t feel like I have any autonomy. I felt like I did what I had to do. Or I felt like I had to do, I wanted to be in human resources. I wanted to be in learning and development because I like to teach, but they kept me in this other box. And if I felt more empowered, if I had more language about why I wanted to do the things I wanted to do and why I would be a more valuable employee, if you let me use my gifts, I wanted to stay there because I loved the company.

I just didn’t love my role. So if I had that language, I think that things might have been different. I don’t know whether I would stay in insurance my whole life. It would have stopped me from forming a dance charity. But I do think that there were opportunities that I missed because I thought I had to stick to this lane.

Does that make sense

Russel Lolacher: Absolutely. Now I want to help. Like, how do you help others with that? Because I’ve worked with others that are completely tying their value, their worth, their identity into the work that they do. And I’m working right beside them going, Oh man, I’m so sorry for you. As a leader, as someone in an organization with influence, how do you create an environment that sort of helps staff and employees separate a bit without taking away that they’re feeling of purpose or feeling like their work matters?

Jennifer Ables: Like I said, the exercise for me and what I would ask people to do either on their own or I would love it if there were companies where they opened this type of, I can be vulnerable. I can share these things. The last place that I worked did feel that way. I could share this isn’t me. This doesn’t feel a good fit for me. How can we move forward? And they were completely open to yes, you’re a great person and a great employee. We want to keep you. Let’s find a different route for you. But for having to take apart. Taking time to do an exercise of where you just list all of your roles. I think of it as, as a wannabe actor, always dreamed of being on Broadway. If I were doing a one gal show, what are all the different roles that I play? I’m a friend. I’m a daughter. I’m an employee. I’m a mentor. I’m a teacher. I’m all of these things. Listing out the roles that I play, and what do I, what are my positive feelings that I get from those?

And knowing that one is different than the other. And that one shouldn’t overtake the other, right? Feel you’re figuring out, like I said before, how do I bring those things into my work? How do I communicate? How can I communicate? Am I in a safe spot? I would ask for employers to, if you want to keep the good people, you need to find out what are they passionate about?

What do they like to do? And how can you, help them create a path where they do that? For me, even with my insurance underwriting job, I was doing, I was training people on this thing called the internet.

Russel Lolacher: I’ve heard of it.

Jennifer Ables: And I had some older employees that were like, absolutely not. Pen and paper. Nothing’s going to replace pen and paper. And I really enjoyed the process of doing that. And I was doing it on my own time because that’s what was fulfilling to me. And if the frustration of the organization I’m working for not recognizing that. Not hearing me say yes, but I don’t like this job Can you put me here?

You’re good at it. So I need you to stay over there. Like I don’t care You know what? I’m good at a lot of things. I don’t want to stay here.

Russel Lolacher: I feel a lot of leaders possibly seeing employees more as cogs in a wheel. More as, you have a purpose and your purpose is to X.

Jennifer Ables: Yes. Yes,

Russel Lolacher: As opposed to getting out of the box and seeing them as humans, seeing them as what they’re bringing to the table, is that… I see that as a big stumbling block because it gets at the identity is their job description, their identity, their job title. Breaks my heart.

So how do you look at an employee… humanizing employee? What are the signs that you’re going down the wrong path as a leader that you’re seeing somebody going, you know what, we need to turn the ship around. You’re too much of a cog in a wheel. Maybe, that’s a way of looking at it.

Jennifer Ables: Look for me looking at, at how they’re engaged. And if I look back on how young Jen was as an insurance writer, I got sloppy. I didn’t like what I was doing so I just got sloppy. And at some point for me personally, I realized that’s outside of my integrity. That’s not who I am. I show up, I do a hundred percent, whether I like it or not. I do a hundred percent. If I’m getting sloppy I’m, out of alignment. I wished that someone would have for me, for Jen, the young underwriter, to go this isn’t like you. You’re getting sloppy with your work. What’s going on? And then I would have had the opportunity to express that. I don’t feel like I’m… I’m utilizing my, my gifts, what I really wanna do. You keep me over here when doing this, and that’s why I’m getting sloppy because I’ve stopped caring. So as an employer, looking at the, folks that are working for you and if they’re not doing what you think is their best, maybe they’re not in the right spot, maybe you’re not asking them to do something in the way that works for them.

I think of especially about the last couple of years with people working remote. For someone like me, I have ADHD. I can focus, but if you get me distracted… bonkers. I’m all over the place. I’m bouncing off and I don’t get something done. So having the freedom and the flexibility to work at my own pace and work at my own hours. And given the trust that I’ll get the job done and I’ll get it done in the way that works best for me. And then I’ll be a happier employee. I actually want to take on more because you’re allowing me the freedom to be me. To work how I work. This helps me. And if you can help me, it will absolutely help you, my employer.

Russel Lolacher: And how you work is part of your identity.

Jennifer Ables: Yeah.

Russel Lolacher: So how would you have done things differently in your role where it was that breaking point for you? Where the nonprofit was ending you, your whole identity is wrapped up in this… Have you looked back and gone? Yeah, I should have done this. If I’d only done that.

Jennifer Ables: Yeah. Yes. So many times and in multiple therapy sessions. It’s your… Tammy something (Tammy McKinney) in one of your podcasts talked about boundaries. I had no boundaries, Russel. I had absolutely no boundaries. I worked six days, six, seven days a week. There was an eighth day, I probably would have worked that too.

It was all that I, did, all that I saw. Everyone I talked to, that’s what I talked about. When I woke up, that’s what I was thinking about. I had no boundary. I had no separation of any kind of personal life. Nothing, everything was work. When I look back, what could I have done differently? I, could have stopped saying yes, because I had no boundaries.

Someone would see what we were doing on social media. And most of my programs started in San Diego area, because that’s where I live as I branched out, any time someone would reach out to me and say, hey, my partner is going through the same thing, I see your testimonials on your social media, can you bring a program to small town USA, wherever they’re located? I’d say, yes, and we’ll find a way, And by doing that, I just kept stretching our resources thinner and thinner financially, but also personally. Now I’ve just said yes to I will find you the money to start that program to keep that one going while I’m already having to do that over here in the other programs I’ve created.

Had I done smaller. Maybe we would still be going. Had I not… again the no boundaries. So yep, I’ll figure it out. Yep I’ll figure it out took no time to think through it because I felt like this is my like, how dare I say no to someone. So a little bit of that people pleaser Also did not work to my advantage In that role. So I’d have better boundaries. My dog just agreed. She barked. Better boundaries about it, but also in a really, I’d say I am sadly ironic way, here I was helping men and women with post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, work through their feelings, be open, giving them an alternative venue, an alternative vehicle to talk through what they’re going through.

Cause it wasn’t about teaching someone to become a great dancer. It was about providing a safe space to do some movement, to do some healing so that you do open up again. You do start to find, Oh, I can find joy. I can find happiness. I do laugh. There is something it helped lift them out of their depression and anxiety.

I didn’t do any of that for myself. I was feeling it. I was feeling further and further depressed, more and more pressure, more and more anxiety. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell any of my friends. I didn’t tell any of my family. I kept that all in. And again, I’m looking back on like the irony of it. I was, I’m what I have made my job to help people through this.

You’re feeling this way. Let’s find a different… but I didn’t do any of that for myself. And by not doing that for myself. I set myself up for that crash.

Russel Lolacher: You’ve had the crash, you’ve built yourself back up. Is there a moment where you’re like, I did it. I’ve been successfully separated my identity from… this is going to sound horrible, Jen, but my failure is not my identity.

Jennifer Ables: Yes.

Russel Lolacher: My, this person that I’ve now identified is my new identity. Is there a moment where you’re like, Oh, I did it. I was successful. I’ve turned the knob where my new identity starts and I’ve separated myself from my old one.

Jennifer Ables: It took I’m going to go with two, maybe three years to really get to that. Cause I want to say yes all the time, because I want to really dive in, this time I asked my closest friends who obviously, eventually found out that I was this crumbled crash of a mess. Isolated myself from rodeo in a, like I said, terrible dark place to ask them of Hey, if you sense me going down that road again, you have carte blanche to check me. Be like, Hey, you’re doing the thing.

Cause I would start to find myself, like I loved improv and then someone asked me to teach improv and I was like. Yes. And my friend goes, you’re starting to do the thing where here’s the thing that you love. Now you’re going to turn into teaching. Now you’re going to turn into a job. Now all of your things are tied up in that one role again, that one thing. Either got to learn how to separate those or maybe step back.

Don’t say yes. Think about it first. Oh, okay. I don’t want to. I don’t want to. But when, one of my best friends, when she checked me that way, I was like, okay, I’ll take some time. I’m like, wow, you’re right. That is exactly, that’s my habit. That’s exactly, I was going right down that path again and not really recognizing it.

So like pulling back and let my hobby be my hobby. Do something, still work on something that feels purposeful, feels meaning, feels like I can bring my whole self to, but not smash them all up into one again. Where it’s I’m going to have an either harder time pulling it out. And when I feel like I did it, was literally just my confirmation of it.

I felt like I was doing it with this most recent role that I had in a team building company. But once they let me know that the job was ending… okay. And it’s not that I felt nothing. I felt calm because I was like, this is just a role. I will get a new role. That’s fine. It was such, it was oddly calming for me because it was the first time that something like that has happened.

I was like Oh, I actually called my coach. And I was like, Hey, I did it. I did the thing. I mean I thought I was doing the thing. I was pretty sure I was doing the thing. I was pretty confident that I always said it. It’s part of like my morning mantra. It’s written on my mirror. I say it to myself all the time. It’s in my journal.

I don’t think it’s got it, and now I’m good. I have to constantly remind myself of these things, like everybody does, right? It’s not a destination, it’s a journey of doing this. So when I was like, Oh I did it, And that informs me that I can do it again.

Russel Lolacher: I want to jump on something you’ve mentioned just in passing there, which was journaling. I think one of the strongest, I’ve mentioned this lots on the podcast, which is some of the biggest super powers you can have is situational awareness and self awareness. And you’ve reinforced that over and over again in talking about identity and reestablishing it, but you need tools and you need a practice to be able to be good at this. How’s journaling helped you?

Jennifer Ables: I’m a very tactile learner. And I, to me, that kind of draws into having been a dancer all my life. Movement is how I process things and how I integrate things into my body. I can’t journal online. I can’t type into anything. I have no connection to it at all. The feeling, literally the feeling of this pencil.

And it has to be a pencil, Russel. Pens are not allowed. Leads to another problem that I have of perfectionism. What if I make it messy?

Russel Lolacher: Part of your identity, Jen? It’s part of your identity.

Jennifer Ables: Let it go, let it go. But I also, there’s also I love the way a pencil feels on paper. Tactilely, for me, I love the way that feels. I love the sound of pencil on paper, and because I have to say the words in my head before I write them down, I’m getting them twice. I’m getting them here as the thought comes into my head, and I’m seeing them visually come out onto My journal.

And I don’t, I obviously don’t write as fast as I think, so I’m having to say it a couple of times before I get it down and then I’m reading it back as I go back through. And that’s how it’s sticking to me. I’m seeing it. I’m processing. I’m seeing it all coming out. I’m looking down because the journal happens to be right in front of me.

One of my thousands of journals. And there can be so much head trash and chatter going on up here that just getting it out. I’m like, Whoa, that was a lot of stuff. You had, you’re holding onto up there, decluttering that space by putting it out on paper. Like journaling to me has been invaluable. And I never used to.

I was like, how’s that gonna, how’s that gonna help me? And I already know how I’m feeling, man. I was very resistant to change myself.

Russel Lolacher: So I don’t want to call her old Jen. We’ll just call her former Jen.

Jennifer Ables: Origin. Original.

Russel Lolacher: What is…Old Jen? What is, and I’ll ask this new Jen versus former Jen. What is something from your old identity that you’re happy to leave behind and what’s one thing from your new identity that you’re thrilled to discover?

Jennifer Ables: Ooh, I like this question. Okay, so I’m still working on obviously the perfectionist piece of it. The other piece for me is It’s okay to not know. I want to know what’s the next thing. Old Jen wanted to know I need a plan. I need a procedure. I need to know exactly what’s next. I can’t quit this until I can do this.

It was very, and now, I let go. New Jen is okay. You know that’s not a good fit for you. You know that you would be burned out if you stuck to this. You know you’d be unhappy with this. What is the phrase that I always use? I’d rather turn you down now than let you down later. Cause part of my what I feel like is my integrity is that I will do the job.

If I hate the job, I’ll still do the job. And I want to do it to 100%. If I get sloppy, like I said before, that’s when I’ve stayed way too long. Knowing, if I know up front this isn’t right for me, it’s okay to say no. I said yes to everything, previous Jen, not old, because current day feels old. Previous Jen, said yes to everything, and like I was saying before with the charity, I said yes and I’ll figure it out.

Yes and I’ll figure it out, and I had to learn to say no, to allow things that I really want. Into my life, but I can say yes to, right? Cause you can’t say yes to everything.

Russel Lolacher: So I’m going to wrap it up with the last question I ask everyone, Jen, which is what’s one simple action people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?

Jennifer Ables: Your most important relationship at work, I believe is with yourself. If you can work on that self relationship, getting that grounding of who you are, being really clear on your own personal identity, I promise it will affect every other relationship you have at work, at home. All of your other relationships.

So the first step to me, the one thing that I ask people always to do is just make a list, of all the different roles that you take on, even if it’s, even if it’s at work, cause you might be asked to do multiple things at work, right? Think about all the different hats you wear during the day.

You might end up being like, dang, I have 24 hats. That’s a lot of hats and, but being able to pull out, these are just rules that I take. What makes me excited about those things? When do I come alive? And put that as a separate list and reread this list, not the rules those, you do those every day.

Those are hats you put on, go back and read that other list. I’m creative. I’m kind, I’m excited, I’m passionate. These are the things that I am. Make those two lists. And make sure that you see how they’re separate. There’s one that’s just going to be a full of nouns. I’m a teacher. I’m a speaker. I’m a parent. I’m a sister. I’m all of these things. These

Russel Lolacher: That is Jen Ables. She’s a leader, professional speaker, founder of charities, but none of those are her identity. Thank you so much for being Jen.

Jennifer Ables: My pleasure.

 

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