asserting your identity

                              woman-looking-into-sun

Erik Erikson proposed that during adolescence, we seek to find and develop our identity. We try out different roles, experiment with different activities, all in order to find who it is we are.

But one key aspect that does not seem to be as emphasized by Erikson, or by most texts I’ve read in my classes, is how we assert that identity once we “find” it… especially in the face of a society that pushes all of us to be a certain way, or adhere to a social construct of “normal.” Because when we don’t fit the mold of “normal,” we are criticized harshly, told to change ourselves, to modify our identities because it is simply “wrong.” We end up feeling the enormous pressure of having to change what may be true to our real selves, so that we can be loved and accepted by others. What a painful dilemma, that is.

People have argued to me that sometimes other people just know better, and it sucks to be rejected or not loved. True, it does suck when someone doesn’t like who we are. In an ideal world, we can be our true selves and have everyone who encounters us likd us. But it’s not a realistic expectation. Not everyone will like who we are… but that’s okay. Because it is just as painful, if not more, to live a life that is not yours. And I would argue to the death that sometimes people DON’T know better. That you know you better than anyone else. Only you have the power to define who you are and who you want to become, what your values are, what drives you, what you choose to make up you. In the same vein, you also have the power to give the reins of that control over your identity to someone else, or to society at large, if you so choose.

Personally, I grew up being bullied most of my childhood. People called me many, many names; I’ve experienced racial slurs to attacks on my physical attractiveness. I’ve had rocks thrown at me in 5th grade, and eggs in 7th. If I choose to give the reins of my identity to others, then I would be defined as an ugly, unattractive, loser girl, who no boy ever, in his right mind, would want to date. I would be on the bottom of the totem pole, invisible, unimportant, unworthy, not good enough, stupid, in need of a diet, deserving of a stoning… the list goes on. For a long time, I did live and think this way. And I suffered with depression for nine years as a result. If I continued to believe what everyone told me I was and took their words as indisputable truth, I wouldn’t be alive today. My demons are very ugly and dark, and I’m certain I would have killed myself by now. Because an ugly shit like me who is unimportant and not good enough doesn’t deserve to live.

But we always have a choice. I cannot stress this enough. We have the choice to either define ourselves by the mountain of shit people throw at us, or to take the wheel and create who it is we are. And in the latter, there is so much power in that. We can take control. No one has power to define our identity except for us. I know who I am, and surround myself with those who see that. And whenever someone tries to define or place a label on me, I respectfully reject their opinion, while in my head I think, “Fuck that shit.” Because I control what goes in, and what goes out… and I don’t need others’ opinions to define me anymore.

I think Friedrich Nietzsche said it best: The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

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decision point

                            Image

I awoke yesterday with an odd feeling, a stark realization washing over my body. It seemed to be saying, “You are not living out your intended purpose. You are not reaching your full potential.” It is as if for the past month, I have entered a state of stagnation. And after talking with a friend, I came to a clearer picture of where I am at this point in my life.

There are multiple ways to get to one destination. Different streets you can take, turns you can make. Life is essentially that. It is made up of the turns we choose to take. How will we get to our intended destination? And in what ways will we change as we embark on that journey? I realized that at this very moment, I am standing on the street, still deciding. “Should I turn left or right? Which one is right?” But I came to see that for most things in life, there is no clear “right” or “wrong.” Life is not as black and white as we want to make it, as simplistic as we wish it was. And you want to know to your very bones that the choices you make will bring you the most happiness, will lead you farthest from pain, that it will all be wonderful and great. But that too, does not speak to the true nature of the human experience. No matter which road we take, we will experience pain. There will be ups and downs, struggles and obstacles. And we have no way to see into the future and calculate the what-ifs with complete certainty. But we should not be seeing obstacles in such a negative light the way that we do. It is by our struggles we grow and gain opportunities to test and reach our full potential.

Really, it seems to come down to this: it’s not always a matter of making the “right” choice, but about making a choice. It is through these choices we live life, continue on that journey. That is why I have been struck with this feeling as if I am not living out my purpose. It is because I am not moving and putting off making those choices. I kept telling myself, I cannot make them because I am not getting confirmation which one is right, I am scared of making the wrong choice. But I see now that my conceptualization is wrong. I cannot put off these things in my life because of my fears of not being right. When I do, I fall into this state of stagnation, I stop in my journey toward my dreams, I stop living life. In these instances and truly, many decision points on our journey, there really is no right or wrong. We just have to look at the information we have at the present and make the best choice that we can in that moment.

Maybe it is all my fears that are holding me back. Maybe it is simply that the street has grown comfortable, even if I have grown bored with it. Maybe there is something way beyond my awareness beating brightly, but my eyes are trained on something else. Maybe it is all of these things that keep my muscles knotted and breath caught. But no matter how much fog there is around me, this is perfectly clear. I need to move. I need to make a choice. By choosing to live, even in the face of great fear, I obtain the courage I will dearly need as this journey progresses. Only I have the power to make the life I desire… all through these choices I make.

finding your path

                               path-to-horizon

Camus once said that life is the sum of all your choices.

A dream I had two nights ago really shook and inspired me. In my dream, a teacher in class asked us to draw a picture of what it means to become an MFT. The picture I drew was of a windy path leading into the horizon, where the sun shone big and bright. I could not see the rest of the path, only where I had been and where I am at. The path in front was cut off at the horizon, unable to be deduced. I felt that it was symbolic of perhaps where I am at in my life, and of life in general. We cannot predict the future with complete certainty… it will never be within our view, until it becomes the present. I could only see one thing ahead… and it’s the dream I want to eventually achieve, shining brilliantly in the distance.

The dream made me think of all the things we do not know, the things that will happen that we could never predict. And what if we do not know where to go? What if there are multiple paths to take, a fork in the road? We can never tell with complete certainty which path is better… we may be able to deduce or predict based on probability, but if there are few truths in life, one of them is that life holds no absolute certainty. So then how do you choose? Maybe you make the choice by predicting what provides the best outcome, or by following your value system. Actions come with consequences, both good and bad ones. You may not know everything, but you do your best with the information you have at the point you are at.

If there is anything I learned about Camus/existentialism in my AP English class back in high school, it’s the concept that meaning is created. There is no ultimate meaning, and we have the power within our perspective to create meanings in everything in life. To a certain extent, I see this playing out in our paths. What makes you happy? What are your dreams and what would it mean about you if they came true? A different answer will arise with each person you ask, because we all hold our own meanings/value system. That is why I think that more than comparing your path to another and “figuring it out” that way, it is best to discern what individual values you run by, what makes you truly happy and if the path you choose will be in alignment with that.

Which leads me back to Camus’ quote. Life is the sum of all your choices. The more I think of it, the more I see it playing out in every area of my life. We have the power to create the life we want (or maybe, don’t want) with the choices we make.  Sometimes we expect life to happen to us, and we sit and wait, instead of seeking. While there is nothing wrong with that, if Camus is right, then I see both the power, and responsibility, we hold to create the life we may desire. So what path will you choose? And if you haven’t chosen, what is holding you back?