We all move through life with a series of identifiers. We adopt words and incorporate them in to our identities to explain who we are to the world. Sometimes these identifiers are given to us by our birth. I am a female. I am a daughter. These identifiers could be changed if I felt they were inaccurate, but I don’t. Some of these are given to us by others. The birth of my sister made me a sister. The ceremony of marriage made me a wife. Someday I hope to be a mother, an identity given to me by the birth of another. These are my most basic identifiers.
From there, I have adopted various words throughout my life that I have made part of my identity. At one point I was a horseback rider, and this was a key part of my identity. At one point I was a church member, which was a central part of how I saw myself and my future, because at one point I wanted to be a minister. That would have been another word incorporated in to my identity, had my life gone down a different path. These words I have adopted to explain myself to the world have changed as my life has changed and grown. We all use identifiers to explain ourselves to ourselves and others.
For the past two years I have been in the continual process of shedding and changing identifiers. In some cases this has been my choice. In some cases it has not.
A little over two years ago the identifier “project manager” ruled my identity. I believed that being the youngest project manager at the company I worked for defined me. I believed that the identifier, and the money that came with it, would give me give me purpose. When I realized this identity made me miserable I went through the painful process of shedding that identity. I contemplated new careers. I found a new passion. I quit that job. I found a new identifier: nanny.
Taking care of children became the driving goal of my life. I found immense happiness in this pursuit, but I also found intense frustration. I discovered that I was infinitely compassionate and loving, but also that I was disturbingly short tempered. Luckily, I found I was kind enough to keep my short temper in check. I found moments of pure joy every time the child I cared for hugged me or kissed me. I faced Olympian level trials every time that same child threw a tantrum. I completely aligned with the identity of caretaker and let it consume my life.
While I was a nanny I was also a student. I had been a student for a very long time. The winding path of my life meant that I had dropped out of college and re-enrolled many times. I had credits scattered in multiple majors, from multiple schools. But I always hung on tight to the identifier student. I loved to read. I loved to learn. I loved to work hard. I loved to write. I loved the late nights in front of a computer screen and the books. God, how I loved the books. I saw this identifier through to completion, and a year ago today I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree. In the natural course of things, I lost the identifier of student.
During this same time, I had also claimed the identity of “fighter”. I wanted nothing more than to be locked in a cage, across from another woman, with the sole purpose of hurting her or being hurt. I poured my heart and soul in to this identity. I punched, kicked, and grappled my way toward this identity. I trained multiple times a day, every single day. I left blood, sweat, and tears on the floor of the ring at my gym. I stayed up nights wondering if my dream was ever meant to come true. I cried when I felt like a failure, got up, and went back to the gym. I also adopted the identifiers of “tough” and “determined”. Never quitting no matter how bad the pain got became part of my identity. I thrived on this identity. I got power from this identity. I eventually overtrained myself in to a serious injury and discovered that the identity “fighter” was fueling my eating disorder. I followed this identity to literal ruin and it was stripped away from me so that I would survive. I went through the painful grieving process of losing an identity.
Recently, I had the identity of nanny taken from me in a way I never expected. It was the last piece of chosen identity I had. I’m still a daughter, a sister, a wife, but these are my given identifiers, not my chosen identifiers. Right now I am in a place where all my identifiers have been let go or taken from me and it has given me a lot of time to think about who we are without the identifiers. When all those words I use to describe myself are gone, what’s left? The answer is me. At the core, I am not any of my identifiers. These are just words I use so that you can relate to me, so that you can place me in your scheme of things. Underneath all those identifiers is just me.
I keep feeling like this should be a scary, uncomfortable time. I feel like I should feel lost, or like I don’t fit, but the truth is I don’t. The truth is I feel just fine. The truth is I feel free. I know that I will have to choose new identifiers soon because the structures of this world require me to have identifiers so my place is known. I’ll choose new identifiers when they become clear to me. Right now though, I’m just going to float in the freedom of just being me, without all the words.