I find that thinking about self-identity is pretty tricky. Identifying myself with labels is easiest of course: wife, daughter, animal lover, soon to be mom, etc. are all readily available categories. But what happens when one of those categories goes away?
The past couple of years of my life have been full of change. Mostly good changes, yes, but there’s been some struggles along the way. About 2 and a half years ago I married my wonderful husband. We were together for a little over a year when we tied the knot. The timing was perfect for us, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Shortly after we were married, I decided that my job as a wine bar manager wasn’t a good fit anymore (too many long nights, not the healthiest environment). So I left that job and began work at Whole Foods. I did well, and was promoted quickly, but didn’t enjoy the work at all. (Am I sounding picky yet? Because I am!) So I bounced back to the wine bar (turns out I should have stayed away, it was not a good fit!) and then bounced again to a very part-time, low-key, low-paying job that I loved.
So there was the job identity crisis of 2011-2012. I struggled with a (self) perceived lack of success, since I went from a well-paying job with accolades, to pretty much minimum wage, part-time work.
Last year when we moved from Houston to Sonoma more changes were afoot. We moved directly in with my in-laws. We thought it would be a short stay, maybe 2 months tops while we shopped for a house. Well 2 months turned out to be 6. I am beyond grateful for the love and support (and roof over our heads) that we were given. But I also struggled living in a completely new environment, away from my friends and family. Who was I without my parents and friends? It was hard to start all new relationships from scratch, without familiar shoulders to lean on.
While I never doubted our decision to leave Texas for California, I didn’t try to pretend that I wasn’t going through a major life change. I truly tried to let myself feel sad when it was necessary, and to enjoy a new life the rest of the time.
Quick breakdown of more changes: we bought a house, moved in, and got pregnant about 2 weeks later. (Of course there are some more job-related changes mixed in there, but I won’t bore you…)
So where am I going with all of this? Ah yes, self-identity.
Yesterday on the radio I heard a super smart person say that happiness happens when you’re not relying on external factors. I almost pulled the car over when I heard that. That concept was (is!) difficult for me to wrap my head around. I, and I’m assuming a few of you out there, rely on external factors as measures of success and happiness. But when those measures are taken away, we are left with… ourselves. And that is scary as shit.
When I first became pregnant, I could barely move off the couch. I could drag myself to work, but that was about it. The rest of the time I was asleep, or a zombie in front of the tv, barely watching. No cooking, no photography, no running, nada. I was terrified that I would never recover those sides of myself. Who was I if I couldn’t cook dinner for my husband? I felt like a bad wife. What about photography? I felt like a wannabe. Going for a run to clear my head was out of the question. Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but I felt like I didn’t have anything to rely on. I had to ask myself: Who am I?
I did my usual bit of allowing myself a bit of wallowing before I answered that question. But I stuck with it. I knew that my situation was very temporary, and there are many people with chronic illnesses who feel awful and may never feel like “themselves” again. So there was that little bit that I needed to suck up and deal with.
I didn’t come to a major conclusion of Who I Am. Because I am a work in progress, I am still figuring out all of my quirks and gifts. But I did let myself be scared. I allowed myself to be vulnerable.
I think that is pretty intense, allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Admitting that you can’t do it all, that you aren’t perfect, you’re actually just a person living their life the best way you know how. The intensity of vulnerability leads to love. I truly believe that. Because if you can’t allow yourself, your true self, to be exposed then you cannot allow yourself to be loved. But if you can move past the need to protect your heart, you let your heart love the way its supposed to: fully, unconditionally, and without fear.
So maybe it comes down to this…
Without self-identification and relying on external measures of success we are stuck with ourselves. And if we allow our hearts to love, ourselves and others, then we are the person we are meant to be.