Identity is complicated. Many of us show up in the roles we have the most experience with. We are likely to imitate the actions, habits and accepted culture that we are exposed to during our formative years. We unknowingly adopt these roles, then play them well as we become adults.
An Example: I grew up with a Mom who worked as a professional, and took care of her family. Following suit, I always planned to work and have a family. There were expectations from without, and from within that I accepted as my own identity without awareness, and without challenging .
But for many of us, as middle age approaches, or a some tragedy or profound loss calls our number at a young age, internal questions start to emerge: Who I am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? What is the meaning of life? What is my identity?
We talked briefly about values (see 3/12/21 post) and the importance of naming and claiming what matters to us. But, I didn’t address the prison that we can find ourselves in, if our environment does not allow us to be who we are. We see this play out again and again in movies and in life.
When we abandon our core, and grow only the parts of us that are the result of expectations and imitations, we get anxious, depressed, exhausted. But it is a luxury to have the actual liberty and safety to ask questions like “What do I value? Who am I?” It is not always safe or acceptable to engage in such thought patterns.
I was reminded of this when Zach was watching “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (not a seasonal, but a regular movie in Zach’s library). With all due respect to this historical kids fable, it is not my favorite. Most recently, I had a visceral reaction to the scene where the young elf was proclaiming his identity of being a dentist and not an elf.
“YOU’RE NOT A DENTIST, YOU’RE AN ELF!” Yelled the miserly “charge” elf who needs all the elves to comply with expectations of the elf role and make the toys. Not only is the young “would be” dentist elf publicly shamed, but is punished and told to work late while the other elves take a break. Eventually, of course the elf goes on to pursue his life as a dentist (yay!) but it got me thinking about our identities overall.
It’s no wonder many of us don’t start to peel back the layers of purpose and identity until we get older. I may have known I was a dentist as a toddler, but society, culture, indoctrination and a host of different (well-intended, even) influences told me otherwise and I buried what I knew to be my truth.
A few rounds of “You’re Not A Dentist!” And the message was received. It’s only later in life that we may begin to question our trajectory choices, and measure them up against a deep sense of identity that we talked ourselves out of over time.
My point? Live and let live. Identity management is complicated enough. Let’s not make it harder on kids OR adults by judging, guiding, suggesting, supporting and accepting only one path for them. No matter what our age, we all make the world a better place by bringing our unique gifts, skills and idiosyncratic identities to light, not abandoning them to go with the flow.
As Marianne Williamson so eloquently reminds us: “And as we let our light shine, We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”