Over the past few years, as I have mentioned, I’ve gone through some injuries and health issues that have altered the way in which I interact with the world around me. Through these experiences I’ve realized that I’m constantly trying to find an identity that I can stick with (so is the U.S., am I right?). I used to be the athlete but now can no longer play sports. I used to be a highly involved volunteer but now work full-time and have little time to devote to it… The list goes on. As I look back on all of the identities that I have had to shed along the way, it makes me wonder about the notion of identity itself and why it’s so important that we have one. In reality, each of us takes steps in so many different directions throughout our lives … some forward, some sideways, some backwards, and sometimes we just stand still. When you look at life that way, it seems almost absurd that we would want to identify with anything, let alone one thing for the entire span of it.
This thinking led me to one huge question that I have been grappling with for weeks.
Why is it so important that we have an identity?
When I introduce myself to others it’s never just with my name. It’s always, “Hi, I’m Kath and I work in HR”, or something of the like to qualify why I’m there and how I should be identified. But, aside from allowing them to associate me with something so that they don’t forget me, what’s the point? I can say with confidence that, if I’m being honest at the time, my introductions could range anywhere from “Hi, I’m Kath and I just had an anxiety attack”or “Hi, I’m Kath and I’m thinking about my cat”, to “Hi, I’m Kath and I’m on a lot of painkillers because of my knee injury so I apologize in advance for anything that I say to you”.
We’ve spent our whole lives identifying ourselves. Think back to the first time we played with a Barbie – she was never just “Barbie, the doll”. She had to be “Barbie, the Flight Attendant”, or “Barbie, the Doctor”, etc. Since then, introductions have always been followed by identities. But, as I just pointed out, our identities can (and, arguably, should) be ever-changing as we go through life. If you focus on the identity that you introduce yourself with, you’ll constantly let yourself down on the days when you just can’t live up to it. I’m incredibly extroverted (my nickname is the Foghorn, after all), but I feel like I’ve let myself down on the days when I just can’t be the social, boat horn-like person that I’ve long identified with. But why the heck should I care? I don’t have to be “Kath, The Foghorn” every day. People would probably be thrilled if I wasn’t ;).
In my opinion, so as to not confuse others, the only identity that we should cling to is our preferred name. From there, I say we take every day as an opportunity to be the best version of our name, whatever form that might take. Some days you’ll be the extrovert and some days not. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t being yourself. On the contrary, I think you’re even more yourself when you can realize what you need to be to best serve yourself and those around you in that moment.
As much as I hated when my brother stole my Barbies and cut their hair, drew on them or tried to feed them to the dog, maybe he was onto something. Maybe I should have learned to embrace their changing identities and I would have learned a valuable lesson about the way I see myself day in and day out.
I’m slowly starting to realize that we are not our titles, we are not our labels, and we are not our relationships. We are just us, as simple as our name, yet much too complex to be defined by one singular identity. So I think it’s time we embrace this eternal identity crisis and try to be the best version of ourselves, whatever that may look like on a given day.
About Kathryn Christie
As an HR Consultant with a deep passion for Mental Health, Kathryn spends her days pushing paper and her nights volunteering with the Canadian Mental Health Association as a co-facilitator of the Family and Caregiver Education program. Her passion extends beyond the realm of her volunteer work which has brought her to Healthy Minds Canada to share stories, support and inspiration with her community.