How do we create our identities, or construct our self narratives? I am sure it may differ slightly from person to person, but a few general themes often emerge. Who are we? We are what we do: students, musicians, avid readers, cat lovers. We are who we love; we are sons and daughters, fathers, aunts, friends. We are what we love: painters, Smashing Pumpkin fans, fast drivers. We are who other people tell us we are. I think that is why so many of us chose to live in healthy communities, surrounded by people who affirm the good in us, strengthen and encourage us. We find our identity in the organizations we have chosen to associate with: schools, churches. And the places we both originated from and choose to live. I am not stating whether finding your identity in any of these things is either healthy or unhealthy, however, I was forced to examine how I create my identity when all of these things were striped away, when I left all of these things behind, as I traveled.
Traveling to me meant that I was deprived of all the people and things which feed me emotionally and spiritually, the people and things who remind me of who I am. I felt empty sometimes and was left to wonder what was left of my identity when it was void of the people I love, as well as my independence and my ability to construct my schedule or life to include the things which I do to remind myself of who I am. For me these things that I do to ground myself range from talking to my mother, to playing music, to taking part in my community life through working with children, things I could not do when traveling. How do you hold onto yourself when your world is spinning?
This is why this trip was challenging for me- I didn’t feel necessarily like me as I traveled. I felt lost (figuratively although literally at times!). However, I am grateful for the experience which made me examine these questions. I took a good long look at how I’ve created ‘who I am’ and the things which are important to my identity, the things which need to be able to travel with me and withstand difficult seasons. What are they? What was left over after the first few layers of my identity were striped away? I know I have an ability to connect with people, I long to be able to make people feel heard, appreciated and valued. I love to laugh, I love to learn, I have even written a little poetry in the absence of the piano keys I usually use for self expression. I have an ability to love. These are the things I found deep within myself when everything else was gone. Traveling was difficult for me, and usually all difficult experiences can act as a refining fire for valuable qualities in you (I’ve even been told that cold showers build character!). Not being able to rely on the things which in the past had provided me with my identity, I had to dig deeper and look at what parts of me withstood the chaos of traveling. Of course, I didn’t love everything I found when I dug, little girls are not made of cinnamon and spice! I found things like impatience, selfishness, pride, and feelings of entitlement in my identity, and despite being ugly, are a part of me as well. With what is left, I can choose to foster and develop the good and battle the not so good, but the point being, that I (I!!!) can do that, anywhere in the world! I can be me, I can find myself, I can embrace and grow in my identity even if I am far away from everything I know. -Crys