This was my first fall since 1999 that I didn’t need to buy new pencils or back to school clothes. Why? Because for the first time in 18 years I didn’t go back to school.
To put it into perspective I’m 21 and I haven’t had a fall season of not going to school since I was 3 years old (yay December birthdays). Being part of an institution like that has such a large impact on your perception of yourself. Being “a student” has been part of my identity for so long and now I am on the path many people who finish university face: figuring out life without the fall back “I’m a student I have time to figure that all out later” mentality.
Why Does Identity Matter?
I remember being in grade 4 and a girl in my class was talking about her favourite Star Wars character. I am lucky to have a big brother and he loves Star Wars so I grew up watching it and I told her I also liked the movies. She got upset and said I was only saying that because she liked it. The point is, she was upset because she was using this interest as part of her identity and she didn’t want me to threaten that.
Have you ever felt like a certain experience or interest became so much of your identity that when you met someone else who shared that you were less special? Have you ever felt insecure because someone is stealing your thing? You feel insecure because your identity is wrapped up in something outside of yourself.
I think identity matters because we plant so much of ourselves in it that we allow it to dictate what we do – “Oh I’m not sporty I can’t join the volleyball game” , or “I’m not artsy I’ll never learn to paint”. Experiences can impact us but when they become part of our identity I think we should be careful that they don’t shape us or limit us in our perception of ourselves.
Inherent worthiness is another important aspect of identity and relationships. Worthiness is a topic Brené Brown talks about a lot – how if we feel we are worthy of love and belonging we must also believe others share that inherent worthiness. A ground level place to think of identity is that you’re a person worthy of love and respect – and so is everyone you encounter today.
Playing Dress Up
Last night it was Halloween and with the purchase of a few new articles of clothes and accessories, I was someone else for a few hours. I donned track shorts and yellow baseball tees along with two other friends, I straightened my red hair to become Cheryl Blossom, another added a pearl necklace to become Veronica Lodge, our Betty Cooper accessorized with a blue scrunchies and another friend wore a beanie and a denim jacket to be Jughead Jones. Together we were the cast of Riverdale (minus Archie).
We can play dress up and become someone else by changing – but what if we are playing dress up every day? I read a book this past spring that I loved so much called Scary Close. It was written by Donald Miller and at one point he talks about an experience being at a retreat centre where the participants weren’t allowed to tell each other what their jobs were. They had to forge connections and relationships without the distinction of defining themselves as a writer or a teacher.
I really liked that idea and I feel like we should employ it more often. Maybe we are playing dress up more often than we think, and titles we wear are getting in the way of people getting to know the real us. To quote on of my favourite Riverdale characters, Veronica, “Can’t we just liberate ourselves from the tired dichotomy of jock, artist. Can’t we, in this post-James Franco world, be all things at once?”
Now Who Are We?
Having security in our identity is something that is important to a lot of people, but what I find interesting is what we look for our identity in. There are somethings, like our relationships or faith that are healthy places to draw our identity from. But then there are things we get invested in, that we see ourselves wrapped up in, in ways we might want to reconsider.
Does anyone remember being in middle school and the feuds between Team Jacob or Team Edward? That was your twelve-year-old self trying to find belonging and identity in a cultural artifact that your peers understood. Or if you’re invested in feud between Pop Diva #1 vs. Pop Diva #2 and that is a part of how you define yourself to others. I definitely made friends in high school based off of liking the same boy bands, because that made sense when I was 15. When we build identities we want to communicate to others who we are and we do this to find to build relationships.
I used to see myself as a dancer, a student, a kid who went to Kenya, and letting go of those things to explore new parts of myself weren’t always easy. I think many of us struggle with that after graduation (or maybe after retirement if that’s your stage of life) because we can’t don the safety of the title “student” – and now that we are grown people want to know what we are doing next.
As we grow older the identities we carry become more complex, but I think in a way it also becomes a little easier to see whats important. Values, goals, relationships – to me at least – seem more important than titles or defining oneself over which member of One Direction is our favourite. We can ask ourselves some bigger questions and intentionally wonder : What is the next title or identity we want to give ourselves?