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Self-insight for success > Tools and theories for self insight > Identity Portfolios for Professional Women

Identity Portfolios for Professional Women

By Galia Barhava-Monteith

The concept of identity portfolios refers to thinking about our various identities – as professionals, partners, mums, etc. – as a portfolio that we relish and invest in, rather than as competing, time-consuming sources of stress. The premise here is that just as you’d be unwise to invest all your money in one type of financial asset, you’d also be unwise to do that when it comes to the different facets of your life.

Rather than investing all their strength, capabilities, time, energy, psychological and emotional capital in one area, happy and well adjusted women (and men) have a diversified portfolio of identities.  When things go astray in one area of their lives, which happens to everyone at times, those with a rounded identity portfolio can draw on other areas to draw strength from and as a consequence remain more resilient.

Feeling Torn

I came across the term the ‘diversified life’ in a book called What Do Happy Women Know.  Since then, I have adopted it and renamed it as ‘identity portfolio’ probably because of the investment portfolio analogy.  It is a concept that resonates with many women because we feel torn in so many directions. Working mothers are a prime example, but they aren’t alone; many professional women (and men) who try to do more than ‘just’ work often feel torn.  We feel as if we don’t do any area of our lives justice because of our many commitments.  As a consequence, many of us feel guilty most of the time: guilty that we can’t be the perfect mothers, always there for every school trip; guilty that we can’t always attend those client functions we’d like to; guilty we can’t put as much time as we’d like into our chosen community activity/ contribution.

Reframing

What the concept of identity portfolio does is to offer us a way to ‘reframe’ this – another favourite psychological concept of mine.  Rather than seeing our full and varied life as a source of stress, we can reframe it to see the many things we do as building our identity portfolios! We can relish our “portfolio of identities” rather than cursing our busy lives and having concerns over lack of one specific area of focus.

Why Identity Portfolios Help Us

Over the years I have reached the conclusion that professionally successful women who also have a good dose of well-being in their lives benefit from diversified identity portfolios in several ways:

  • greater access to good, supportive social networks they can turn to in terms of turmoil;
  • through their diverse identities they get to exercise their signature strengths and to experience a lot of flow which builds their psychological reserves;
  • or simply because they can say, ‘too bad my work is driving me crazy, but my art / hobby/ sport has really improved over the last few months!’

Risk

The flip side is that those who have all their ‘identity capital’ invested in one area, be it work, motherhood, or something else, are more vulnerable and at risk when the central pillar of their identity suffers a blow. ‘All at sea’ is a term that comes to mind when I come across such people. This is especially true for many high powered men who have had to either step back from work or retire. Similarly, it tends to be mums who feel bereft of their central identity when their children leave home.

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