Quarter Life Identity Crisis?

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?

 

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“I’m only showing you the good stuff”

In university I had a double major in Peace and Conflict Studies and Speech Communication. Speech Comm was my first love in university and my favourite area of study in the discipline is something called Performance Studies.

Performance Studies is a wide feild that “uses performance as a lens to study the world”, essentially it looks at how your perform your everyday life. It takes Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” idea to the next level and studies culture and individual behaviour as performative. I think one of the most interesting applications of performance studies is analyzing social media.

Reading Performance

I still remember the first time I read the article I Tweet, Therefore I Am by Peggy Orenstein for a class at the beginning of my degree. It changed the way I thought about social media and what I communicate with it. Her article is informed by ideas from scholars such as the sociologist Erving Goffman who said that “all of life is performance: we act out a role in every interaction”.

I read Susan Sontag’s essay On Photography in a class this past winter. She wrote the article in 1960’s, when Polaroid photography was becoming increasingly popular, and it was remarkably relatable to modern social media. Similar to polaroid photos, digital photography gives us the power to capture and commodify our everyday lives. The photos we share become “miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire” and we use them as proof to share our experiences with others.

You can analyze any photo you see and think about the social values that are being performed and what ideals are being strived for. When you post a photo what does it say? For example, a typical “studying in a coffeeshop photo” – many of which I am guilty of posting. When you see a MacBook, some textbooks, an overpriced latte and a campus library you might think it’s just someone studying. That is the denotative (literal) message of the photo, but the connotative meaning shows that the person is able to afford those things: they can pay tuition and buy coffee and a fancy laptop. These photos aren’t bad, but I think it’s good to know what you’re communicating and being critical of that in yourself.

A Hiatus of Posting Photos of Coffee

I took a 3 month break from Instagram this winter as an experiment for a performance studies class I was in. I had re-read I Tweet, Therefore I am and wondered how my use of social media was impacting me everyday.

One night I went through my Instagram posts for an entire year and catalogued them, all 284 of them,  into 16 categories including “food”, “events”, “friends/family”, “pretty”, “nature”, etc. to analyze what I was posting and what it said about me. I’m often mindful of individual photos I post, but as a whole I wondered if my values represented. What seemed significant about my life to share? Over a third of the photos had food or drinks in them, a quarter were with friends and family, almost half were definitely aesthetically pleasing.

The over all thing I noticed was that looking back, many of the images didn’t have special meaning and I began to wonder, were the photos I posted really worth sharing? During this time I replaced posting photos with painting watercolours paintings of the photos I would have been posting as a fun artistic challenge to get me painting more often. And let me tell you, nothing makes you question the value of capturing an image of coffee more than putting in the effort to paint it.

When Social Media Creates Disconnection 

Social media was created to help people connect, but the thing is, it also fuels disconnection. My break gave me a fresh perspective on how people see you and generate perceptions about your life on social media but it can be a very distorted version of the real thing. Seeing and interacting with other people’s posts creates an illusion of connection but I think it can also make people feel left out.

After last week’s post you know I’m all for celebrating good things but when people’s timelines are inundated with people showing off “perfect” lives it can be isolating for individuals who feel like their real lives don’t look like that. When the majority of photos are glamorously happy posts about our successes and accomplishments, concerts, beach trips, nights out and leisurely afternoons – people might think that’s how life always is. Which is problematic because it’s not a real representation of life.

There is a lot that gets left out of the narrative of our lives and I wonder if it’s truly productive to showcase the best parts of our lives. Sadness, an emotion that plays a large role in the human experience is generally excluded from the visual portrayal of our lives because it’s “too vulnerable” or “not appropriate”. Do we need to at least explicitly admit I’m only showing you the good stuff?

One of the biggest things I learned in my ‘hiatus’ was that you actually know very little about how people are doing based off of what they post. You can’t watch an Instagram or Snapchat story and assume you know how that person is doing. If you want to know about someone’s life you need to intentionally communicate with them.

Posting with Purpose

When I started using Instagram again I wanted to use the platform to communicate something meaningful. I don’t want to just curate a nice aesthetic or post things so people think my life looks a certain way. I admire when people post authentic and honest things about their lives – not just the highlights. I studied aesthetics in an art, culture and communication course and my favourite thing the prof always told us was that good art can’t just be pretty, it has to be informed by theory. It might be a stretch to say Instagram is art but I like the idea that the photos you take and the reason you post them are informed by more than just wanting to look like you have a pretty life.

I created 3 loose guidelines for myself to follow before posting to assess if the photo lined up with things I really value and want to share with others. Rules, however, were meant to be broken so I don’t follow them 100% of the time. They are:

  1. The photo is from a meaningful event or celebrates a meaningful person (because relationships and the people in my life matter to me a lot)
  2. The photo communicates an important message (after all, social media is an effective form of communication so if there is something important to say it’s a good place to say it)
  3. The photo is honestly just beautiful and I would frame it on my wall (98% of the time this rule applies to nature photos)

The Big Picture 

If I learned one thing in the Speech Communication program, it was to always be a critical thinker and a critical consumer of media. Remember the posts you see are generally the highlights, not the everyday, and if your life isn’t aesthetically pleasing all the time that is okay. Social media might not have a disclaimer that we are only showing the good stuff, and some people do get pretty authentic with the things they share, but be mindful that people’s lives are bigger than what you see and one post is not the whole picture.

Along with encouraging critical consumption I want to suggest is that the posts you should be critical of are your own, and only your own. Be a critical creator and don’t be afraid to ask yourself why you share thing things you post.

Loving People Well

I wrote a post last week that was about the importance of being vulnerable in relationships and accepting love from the people in your life. When I receive love I feel inspired to love others the same way, so this week is part two and I’m talking about giving love and loving people well.

The more I recognize acts of grace and kindness the more inspired I become to be kind to others. On days when I’m tired, sad, frustrated, I’m inspired to be more gracious, patient and kind because I’m honoured when others do the same for me. Appreciating small acts of kindness can give you energy to pay it forward. I know this all probably sounds very elementary – but honestly, how often do you apply it your life?

Invisible Love: Making the Best Assumptions

I think of ‘invisible love’ as the actions that people might not see. For example, being discreetly generous, making generous assumptions about people, or being patient despite your own stress is what I might consider ‘invisible’ love. You’ll never hit your “nice quota” for the day and there is always room to try to be more patient, gracious, considerate and kind toward the people you encounter each day.

As a teenager I worked at a summer camp that had a sign on the wall by the kitchen that essentially said “Are you hungry? Tired? Grouchy? Go take care of your needs before you interact with people”. The sign was there because when we are hungry, over tired, etc. we aren’t our best (or most loving) selves. It’s like that snickers slogan, ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’. To love people well, we should try to look at this from the other side too, by recognizing it in others. For example, if your friend is grouchy there are a few ways you can react:

  1. Point out the person is in a bad mood (because they’ll love it)
  2. Recognize the cause of their behaviour might not have to do with you and try to make them feel better
  3. Ignore the cause of their behaviour and get upset or frustrated with them for being grumpy

Number 2 is the best option, because that’s offering grace and making a generous assumption about them. It can be hard to figure out why people are stressed or upset; people get hangry, frustrated, they have other internal things going on that you can’t see, or they are just having a bad day. Often times, we all just need a little understanding.

A few summers ago I went on a road-trip with friends to Quebec and a story I may never live down from that trip was when I started crying in a Montreal H&M. We’d been up driving from our town since 4am, I had a stomach ache from eating lunch too fast, and a revolving door hit my heel and it started to bleed. It was nonsense, but I started crying profusely. It was funny once I pulled myself together and realized I just needed to take a minute to sit and rest. We all experience moments when you need people to be patient with you. It’s a bonus when the people around you simply suggest we just sit on a bench and take a break without making you feel silly.

The moral of the story is, if you see someone upset, stressed, or grumpy, maybe from your perspective overreacting, take a step back and think about what’s going on with them. Don’t assume it’s about you, assume they need a little extra love today.

Visible Love: Showing Up 

I think one of the best ways to love people is to just show up and be present for them. Just being there for someone, even if you don’t know what to say can mean a lot. Showing up can take many forms; it can be a listening ear, a hug, a shoulder to cry on, or moral support. Bob Goff’s book Love Does talks about the idea that love is an action, it goes out, says “I’m with you” and makes things happen. I couldn’t agree more. Even if you’re not sure how to support someone the first step is always to show up and let them know you are there for them. I’ve never called a friend looking for a person to talk things out with and been upset that they picked up the phone. As long as you’re willing to be there, that’s enough.

I read this blog the other day about the importance of “holding up your 50%” in a relationship, it’s a good reminder that we should be intentional about investing into people who invest in relationships with us and loving the people who love us. It can be easy to be wrapped up in your life and appreciate receiving love from people, but healthy friendships and relationships are give and take. You can’t take advantage of love and not give it back.

Some other ways to love people is by practicing inclusivity or being a source of encouragement. You can love people by inviting them to hangout and grab coffee, have a girls night or go to goat yoga with you (or whatever activities you’re into). Honestly, it never hurts to be inclusive. And encouraging people and telling them what they mean to you is a great way to remind them how much they mean to you and how you value them.

Enforce Boundaries that Allow You to Love Fiercely 

To love people well you need to set boundaries. Brené Brown describes setting boundaries as outlining what behaviour is okay and what is not okay. It can be hard to set boundaries because we don’t want to disappoint people. She said it best when she said, rather than being resentful of people because of a lack of boundaries, she “would rather be loving and generous and be very straight forward about what is okay and whats not okay”. When thinking about the invisible love and the generous assumptions, ask yourself the question Brown asks in her book, “What boundaries need to be in place for me to make the most generous assumptions about people?”.

In Donald Miller’s Scary Close he writes about a conversation with his friend where his friend tells him “I’ve learned there are givers and takers in this life. I’ve slowly let the takers go and I’ve had it for the better…. God bless them, when they learn to play by the rules they are welcome back, but my heart it worth protecting”. That hit home for me. YES! My heart and your heart and your heart and your heart, and everybody’s hearts are worth protecting. Remembering that and setting healthy boundaries are important to allow yourself love people in the most genuine and wholehearted way.

Just Love Them

In my first post I wrote that I love to love people, and I really do. If I could find a full-time job where I encourage people and send them love and practice kindness I would accept it in an instant. The cool thing is that, we can actually all have that job. It’s not a paid position, but I think positive impact your actions make in the world is worth it.

I want to be like the sweet woman in a coffee shop who lends you a laptop charger when you forget yours, the stranger ahead of you in line who hears you say what cupcake you want and they purposely don’t buy it so you can have it, and the people who leave generous tips. On a bad day when you show up at your friend’s door saying “I know we haven’t been close lately”, and you feel like maybe you don’t deserve to ask for their support, and they say that doesn’t matter I’m so glad you came to me and hug you tight – that is the way I want to love others.

This week I’ll leave you with a passage from Ephesians 4:2 that I really like which says that when interacting with people to be humble, gentle and patient, “bearing with one another in love”. It reminds me of when people say “please bear with me” and I think we just need to have people bear with us and say its okay, I’ll be patient. Just imagine everyone you encounter is asking you to bear with them and needs that understanding and grace, because they probably do. 

Planning on Not Making Plans

I graduated last week. I walked across the stage, got hooded, shook hands with the president of the university and he asked me the age old question, “what’s next for you?”.

The thing is, I didn’t really have time to explain in 15 seconds that my ‘plans’ are that I’m taking a break from school, going to the beach, enjoying the freedom to embrace unexpected opportunities that come up, researching which grad schools I might apply to, and working to save up for whatever I end up doing.

Failure as Opportunity 

I read an article in my last term at school called The Queer Art of Failure by Jack Halberstam and it challenged me to think about failure and not living up to other people’s (or society’s) expectations in a new way. I’m not at all saying that graduating from school is a failure, but I think people often see graduating without a fancy job or clear path for the next 10 years as less than ideal. The Queer Art of Failure suggests that “under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world”.

There are lots of types of failure, there are lots of ways we don’t live up to people’s expectations. Not having a plan right out of schools is just one of those. Another example I think people can relate to is being single on Valentine’s Day. I read Halberstam’s article in February this year and after reflecting on it I realized I could see  that day it in a different way, and I was surprised this year that I had one of my best Valentine’s Days yet. I was surprised with roses, showered with love, gifted heart shaped cookies from my favourite bakery, sent chocolate, and spent time with my best friend. I looked at this day and understood that there were more creative ways of “being” on that day, it wasn’t typical or romantic, but I felt really loved by a lot of people.

Whatever pressure you feel and whatever ideals you think you’re failing to live up to, know that that is just one way of being in the world, and not living up to that isn’t a failure. It is an opportunity to be a little more creative with how you experience and see your life. Experiences shouldn’t be defined in black and white as failures or successes: just because you’re not doing someone else’s idea of Plan A doesn’t mean you’re not having worthwhile experiences. Failure gives you the space to embrace alternative opportunities.

I don’t know what your definitions of success might be, I don’t know what failures you struggle with, but I encourage you to think about different perspectives on how you define achievements in your life. Big or small, if it’s waking up early to go for a run, managing to fit in time for self-care, being a supportive friend, celebrating earning a degree, or some other accomplishment. When we drop the expectations of others, we give ourselves more room to live creatively and the chance to redefine success for yourself.

The Glorification of Busy 

As a fresh grad without a full time job it has been a real treat to have time for the things I’ve always wanted to do but run out of time for. I’ve been purging my closet and organizing my desk so it’s finally a space to make art, going to the gym (not regularly but still), and reading for pleasure till my eyeballs hurt. But my favourite thing has been connecting with people, being able to say “I’m flexible!” when we plan a coffee date and performing acrobatics to fit myself into their schedule.

As a society we glorify being busy; it seems cool when we say “I’m SO busy” because it sounds important, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel good. For me, busy can feel stressful, exhausting, and scattered, like there is always something to do. It also often means having to say no to things I would love to do and people I want to see because I don’t have the time. Busy isn’t bad but I’ve had so much busy in the past few years that I’m relishing a slower pace.

Often we don’t get to control when our lives get busy, everyone is in a different season of life and they all come with their own challenges and requirements. But when you do get a chance to slow down, even for a day, enjoy it. Don’t fill time just to be busy, stop to smell the roses, and remember that it is okay to not always be doing something.

Why Not Making Plans is a Good Thing

There is a fantastic thing about cancelled plans and things not working out according how you imagined. I don’t always love spontaneity, and generally I thrive on the stability of making plans, but when you happen to have free time there are endless possibilities. Sometimes wonderful unexpected opportunities come your way when you couldn’t have enjoyed them if you were sticking to your plan.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • A few weeks ago, it was Friday night and I don’t like being without plans on Friday night. But there I was. I suggested we have family dinner because that would make the night more fun. While at diner my sister in-law’s mom came over and put two front row tickets for the symphony on the kitchen table and said she couldn’t go but she wanted someone else to enjoy them. I ended up going with my mom and having a really fun time. When I woke up that morning I didn’t have plans, and I didn’t scramble to make plans just for the sake of filling time. I let the time be there and put things into it that made the day better.
  • I’m working as a research assistant this term for a professor who I really admire and respect. It’s a fun opportunity, a great learning experience, and a privilege to be in a unique position to say yes to jump on board with things when they come along because you’re available.
  • I have a few friends who live out of town and have a tendency to tell me when they are in my city that they are around. One of them will sometimes just text and say “What are you doing right now?” and if I’m free we get coffee. It’s not something you can plan for, but I love it when I have space in my day that allow for those kinds of surprises.

 

This is not to say that plans are bad – I am incredibly excited for my friends that are going to med school, law school, college programs, jumping straight into new jobs to build their careers – the people who are making plans. If you know what you want to do I admire the vivacity people have to go after those things they feel called to. But if you don’t have a clear answer to the question “what’s next for you?”, I think it’s okay to take time and not rush into making plans for the sake of keeping your life busy. No matter what stage of life you’re in, everyday is a chance for you to explore new possibilities, creative ways of being, and to redefine success for yourself.

 

With a Grain of Salt

Happy Wednesday and welcome to my first post!

Writing this blog feels like its been a long time coming. I got the idea last fall that I should start one when I finished school to keep up writing and explore a new creative avenue to reflect on topics that I’m passionate about. So, eight months later, here we are.

It was hard to settle on a title but, A Heart of Glass is what I landed on. In the song War of My Life, John Mayer sings “I’ve got a hammer/  And a heart of glass/ I got to know right now/ Which walls to smash”, which I love and it relates well to what I hope to explore on this blog. I’ll be writing broadly about navigating life, embracing vulnerability, loving people well, taking care of yourself (yay practicing self-care!!) – and a concept I like to refer to as “congruent wellness”. Congruent Wellness is the idea that a holistic approach to health requires a harmonious balance between mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and relational wellness. Being truly healthy stems from taking care of all aspects of wellness in one’s life.

I love to love people, I once told a friend over coffee that when I grew up I just wanted to write people notes of encouragement and bake people cookies. In my life post-graduation I’m exploring what’s next, and what I know for sure is I want to make the world a brighter place and the best way I know how to do that is making sure I’m taking care of myself so that I can support others wholeheartedly. Being able to welcome vulnerability, build community and explore ideas in a world built of stumbling blocks can be challenging but I hope you’ll join me on this adventure.

Finally, I’ll just throw it out there that I’m no expert. I’ll be exploring a range of topics but I have a BA (in Speech Communication and Peace & Conflict Studies) not a PhD so please, take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. I’m planning on posting links to research if I state any hard facts – but my goal here is to stir new ideas, encourage you to think about how best you can take care of yourself and empower you to fiercely love the world around you.

My goal for the month of April was to learn the rap from Calvin Harris’ song Slide, and I didn’t fully achieve that goal. My goal for the month of May was to actually start this blog, I’m hoping it’s a bit more successful.