After 27 years as the voice of Kermit the Frog, Steve Whitmire is out of a job. Following Jim Henson’s unexpected death in 1990, Kermit was recast with Whitmire as his voice. In many ways, he became Kermit. For Henson, the voice of Kermit wasn’t just a role for which to audition; it was an identity. Whitmire embraced that vision for the role. Vox says, “It’s hard to overstate just how synonymous Whitmire and Kermit have become over the years. In fact, for a long time, Disney encouraged their interchangeability, blurring the lines that marked where Kermit ended and Whitmire began. For Whitmire, his dismissal isn’t just a job loss, it’s an existential crisis–one that Disney has fueled.” 1 Whitmire isn’t going away quietly and has recently gone public about his dismissal last October.
Many people face such an identity crisis when the role they have performed all of their lives comes to an end. It may be a sudden layoff from a job, an empty nest when the children leave home, or the end of a career due to retirement. I faced such a loss of identity when I left the pastorate at just 38 years of age. I had prepared all my life to be a pastor. I attended college, interned at my home church, graduated from seminary and was ordained to the pastoral ministry. It was not uncommon for people in the churches I served to refer to me as “Pastor Dick.”
After five years of youth ministry and ten years as a senior pastor in two different churches, I was hard pressed to find another pastorate. I left my position as a senior pastor in a conflicted church to join a para-church organization. I’ll never forget the first time a co-worker referred to me as an “ex-pastor.” It hit me that day that I had lost my identity as a pastor. Like Steve Whitmire/Kermit, I had lost my voice.
I struggled for some time to know who I was apart from the role. I continued in ministry, but in the para-church world–eventually forming a non-profit organization to fulfill my calling. Then after fifteen years out of the pastorate, I was invited back onto the staff of a large church, where I became the Executive Pastor (one mustn’t miss the irony of that–from “ex-pastor” to “XPastor”). I learned a new role as an administrative pastor, but never again did I allow my full identity to be defined by the position I held.
What about you? Where do you find your identity in life? Have you recently faced a transition in life like that of Steve Whitmire? Are you struggling to know who you are in this new season?
To address that issue, Leona and I recently co-wrote the book Third Calling: What are you doing the rest of your life? We recognize at this stage of life we need a fresh sense of what we are called to be and to do in the world. As we transition from our defined roles in society, it becomes a time to revisit our reason for being. This new season affords us many new possibilities.
Dr. Ken Dychtwald, noted gerontologist and author, wrote: “This period of life may be the ideal time for fresh starts and late blooming with new dreams and goals, of intellectual growth, new relationships, vitality, and contribution.” 2 Unless we are intentional about discovering our “third calling” we may miss the opportunities available to us.
What does it take to find meaning and purpose in a new stage of life? We suggest, among other things, rediscovering your calling, clarifying your values, and re-dreaming the dream for your life. Discover your Third Calling and find your voice– even if you have a frog in your throat!
written by Richard Bergstrom, President, ChurchHealth/Re-Ignite
© Re-Ignite 2017
Photo by Canstock
2 With Purpose: Going from Success to Significance in Life and Work, by Ken Dychtwald (pg. 4).