I have been thinking a lot about identity.
Living in society we get a lot of input from all sorts of sources about who we should be, could be, would be if only xyz. Everyone has an opinion about what a good person is and what a bad person is. People like to make statements like, “I’m a person who…” and you fill in something you consider to be truly definitive of “Who You Are”. But, in my experience, figuring out the answer to the question, “Who am I?” is a lifelong quest.
I have spent a considerable amount of my life dealing with self-loathing and worrying about what other people think about me. Looking back at my life thus far, my entire identity has been told to me by outside observers. It is only recently that I have begun to get an idea of me.
When I was a kid growing up around astrology, it was easy to get swept up into a ready-made identity bestowed upon you by the stars. “You are an Aries. This means that you are passionate, outgoing, intense, FIREY! On the flipside, you are prone to bad versions of these things, mainly in emotional overreaction, an overinflated ego, and a need for people to be around you to be happy.” This description was very convincing and looking at it currently, it makes me laugh because, well, all of those things are true. I don’t particularly describe myself as firey or intense, but the struggles I have certainly fall into the above stated categories.
Of course, I can boil these truths down to nature and nurturing; genetics and environment. When people talk casually about astrology, they generally refer only to a person’s sun sign. This explains you in broad strokes, which is good enough for most people. If you happen to be talking to someone who knows a little more, you can explain all of your other qualities. For instance, I am an Aries with a shitload of Libra in my chart.
Yes, my “chart was done” when I was born.
When I was a kid I had considerable problems dealing with expressing my preferences and requesting my needs be met while over-accommodating other’s people’s preferences and requests. I know…I should probably not talk about that in the past tense as it is still something I struggle with. But I used to have fits of stress followed by fits of anger and sadness when a friend spent too much time at my house. I would talk about this with astrology buffs and they would identify this as me having a need for balance. Libra, represented by the scales, is very focused on balance…so it all makes sense.
Looking back, I thought this was amazing. “Of course! I have been dealt the ‘you have a need for balance’ card in life! That’s why spending a long time with my friends makes me crazy!” This fact also had me convinced that I was an introvert.
As it turns out, it’s just that I’m pleasant and over-accommodating so I used to attract mostly assholes as friends. I worry too much about what everyone thinks so I fear stating opinions and calling people on their shit. Assholes love that! Also, people would call these Pisces problems and, as I was born on the cusp between Aries and Pisces, again, this all makes sense.
Astrology can get really complicated…you know, like the human genome and quantum mechanics. OK, I suppose it stops short of the other two, but for most people’s purposes you can explain every single thing about them by fitting all of their attributes into the different houses and ascensions, moon landings, solar flare mega action and…oh, who knows. In the end, you can completely discount that you are a bag of chemicals at the mercy of electrons.
Astrology also gives you the idea that you are written in stone. On the day you are born you are given a group of “good things” about you and a group of “bad things”. Your mission, if you choose to accept it…haha, choices, that’s rich…is to learn to “just be” with the bad things. I mean, what choice do you have? The stars have proclaimed it!
And, of course, astrology is not the only belief system that says this. Every person is born for a purpose and everything happens for a reason is a tenet of many a religion. This idea gives support to the thought that all the things that drive you crazy about yourself are necessary and unchangeable, but it’s OK because you’re that way from some Grand Purpose.
Growing up I got a lot of labels put on me. “You’re so nice! You’re so theatrical! You’re so out there and unique! You’re funny! You have such an interesting style!” And while these were mostly good (though some were often thinly veiled criticisms), now I can give you multiple bad sides to all of those attributes. “I am spineless. I am afraid to speak. I like a lot of attention. I might make you uncomfortable with my view of the world and my disdain for your mainstream view.” The terror of being honest and alienating people whose opinions about me I valued has oft stopped me from saying anything, for speaking up for myself and others, for doing what I really want to do.
When I was in highschool, I was miserable. I spent my days surrounded by people I didn’t particularly like but refused to say so. I had completely “valid” reasons for finding these people distasteful, but I wouldn’t speak up for fear of them knowing and being mean back or whatever. I never said what I wanted from people. I never asked what they wanted from me. I let everyone tell me who I was because I didn’t have a way to articulate my own thoughts on the subject. I spent years in silence feeling only free on a stage playing someone else, or in front of classroom reading something I had written or presenting. On the outside I was strong, theatrical, and brave and I never got upset. On the inside I was insecure, constantly questioning everything I did or said, and worrying about everyone’s opinion all the time.
I have changed drastically over the last several years. Wes helped me to discover that I was most certainly not written in stone. He helped me to find a level of awareness about what I wanted in life, what would make me happy, and what I was personally doing to stand in my way. I am always open to change. I want to be as happy as possible. If there’s something that always bothers me, then I need to figure out why and address it. There is no “this is too hard” or “well, I’m not the kind of person who can do that” for me. I can do anything I want. I can affect whatever change I want. The only thing standing in the way would be my own dishonesty or my own false value assessment.
Like I said, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity. And I realize that despite the fact that I have spent so long struggling with insecurities and worrying about everyone’s opinion, and despite the fact that I have worked so hard to change the things about myself that cause me harm and stress, I have never really not known “who I am”. Or, at least, I have a strong sense of self deep inside that never waivers. At 31 years of age, I still can’t articulate what that means in words. The only thing I can say is never once during the journey to those changes have I worried about losing sight of myself. And each success, each stressor that I struggle with and learn to control, I am happier and the happiness brings a clarity to that sense of self. The harder I work, the more I learn and grow, the stronger that sense of self is. I am flawed but I am strong. I am scared but I am committed. I am crazed but I have a sense of humor about it. I am emotional, passionate, ridiculous, confident and insecure.
In other words, I am human and will never know everything about me. I know myself better at 31 than I did at 21. At 51, I will likely look back at this and laugh at how much further I was going to go and at 81, I will be old and too busy doing my full time “Old Lady with funny hats and accents” impression.
You are an active participant in your identity. I look at myself as clay over iron framework. I am malleable but retain my underlying composition as I stretch and expand. I am vigilant about the things with which I struggle. I see no reason to not identify the things I dislike and work to change them. There is never a downside to this and much like an old piece of clay holds onto pieces of previous forms it was in, these things are always there in some way as a part of me. But they are not “Who I Am”. They do not have to control me or define me. They are just there, sometimes nagging at me to indulge them. Other times they are just memories of a darker moment.
You are who you truly want to be. Change attempted for the sake of other people will not stick and only leads to resentment. Change must come from within one’s self. You have to want it. You have to be honest. And you have to work. Having to work hard doesn’t make me feel like I’m being inauthentic. It makes me feel like I am finally taking on all of the bullshit that keeps me from enjoying this one beautiful, irreplaceable life.
And every day that I am alive and moving ahead or even when I am standing still in a mire I have likely created, I think to myself that it is always worth it to push through, to let go, to be brave against my own demons. Every day is a light at the end of yesterday’s tunnel. Each day is new and full of potential. I will not waste it saying, “Well, I guess that’s just who I am.” No. Not again.