They may be just three short words but they are enough to make some of us break out into a cold sweat and catapult others headlong into a midlife identity crisis. The words responsible for such strong reactions form a deceptively simple question: ‘Who am I?’

As a matter of fact, it is completely normal for us to arrive in mid life not knowing who we are. The identity challenge we face at this time is every bit as testing as the one we all tend to remember, despite our best efforts to forget — adolescence.

Experimenting with a variety of identities back then was part of a rite of passage into adulthood and yet here we are again, just when we think we’ve got things pretty well sewn up, asking the same question. ‘Who am I?’ As an adolescent our response was along the lines of ‘I don’t know YET’, whereas a few decades later we are more likely to answer, ‘I don’t know ANYMORE’.

The pivotal question that took us most of our adolescence and beyond to answer, has huge implications again for us again in midlife and how we choose to answer it, will determine our quality of life as we move into second adulthood. So, if the question has particular significance for you or a loved one at this time, you might find it useful to consider the following suggestions.

Identify what you need to let go of

Midlife is a time when many of the roles that once defined us start to change. Some key relationships may need renegotiating at a time when our children need us less, our work no longer satisfies and the mirror tells us we are no longer a ‘young’ adult. Hanging on to once precious but now outmoded roles, only delays the discovery of our new identity — by letting go, we are free to explore our future options and prepare for the next new chapter.

Move out of denial

The symptoms of a ‘classic’ midlife crisis are often little more than diversionary tactics we use in an effort to deny, hide or suppress painful truths. We may not like the answers we find when we first ask the ‘who am I’ question and we often show our discomfort by ‘acting out of character’.

Forming a brand new honest relationship with ourselves, is a fundamental part of forging a new identity that allows us to be comfortable in our own skin. When we know and accept who we are at our core, our priorities become clearer and our decisions become easier.

Look within to find the answers

Although we may find parts of ourselves have been denied, neglected or submerged beneath the needs of others, midlife offers us an opportunity to reconnect with what is important to us now. To find our true selves, we need to explore fundamental questions about what really matters, what really makes us happy and what values must be honoured in our lives. The answers will be found through taking time for introspection and personal reflection.

Make authentic choices

Having spent a good part of our adult life making decisions based on the needs of our nearest and dearest, when it comes to making decisions about our own life, we often find the prospect overwhelming or we are paralyzed by fears of making the ‘wrong’ ones.

How different might we feel if we choose to do things that feel good for us, that fit with our values and ideas about how we want to spend our time and energy? How different might we feel if we made authentic choices about the things that need to change and the things we positively have to keep in our life?

Whether we like them or not, the answers we get to the ‘who am I’ question can provide the impetus for lasting change. In the quest to find out who we are, we initiate a process of change which can transform our lives in ways we had never even dreamed of. © Karen Knott 2008

Karen Knott is a life coach who works with midlife women who are eager to reconnect with their sense of purpose and enthusiasm and make lasting changes that have a positive impact on their lives. Register for her free e-Programme ‘Turning Midlife into the Time of Your Life’ at

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