I’ve started thinking about identity. What is it? How does it work? Is my identity me?
I’ve come to a conclusion as I’ve pondered the idea of “identity”… My identity is not me. My identity is something external to me. It’s everything I’ve picked up to define myself along the way. The views through others eyes and the shortcuts I use to describe myself. Where I spend my time and energy. What I create. All that is wrapped up in my identity. But it is not me.
I’ve come up with an analogy, explaining identity as a sweater, worn over the core of who we are. It is knit throughout our life by influential people in our lives and, eventually, by our selves. The sweater is started by our parents, who give it their best. As we get older teachers take on the task, and our friends join in too. There are threads of culture woven through, along with our interests, professions and important relationships. Our strengths and our weaknesses get in there, maybe out of proportion in places.
At some point in our lives, we might realize that we are wearing a sweater that no longer fits. For whatever reason, the identity that has grown up with us has become too big or too small, too long or too short. So we have to unravel, and reknit it for ourselves. We realize that we can adjust and shape it to better fit. Maybe we can even remove it altogether, but I think that must be much harder to do.
There are times in our unraveling, when it goes beautifully. Everything just comes apart easily and you can start to patch things together in a new way. I think this happened for me in Italy, as I rediscovered art and my creative side. After a couple of years of work I emerged with a new patch of my identity sweater, beautiful and colorful. These last couple of years I’ve worked to carefully knit the new and old patches together, finding a fit that works.
But there are other times in our reshaping, when you have multiple strands going at the same time – some unraveling, some knitting back up – and you get a knot. A snarly knot that doesn’t want to budge. All you can do is take some time to pick at it, work it loose. Figure out which strand goes where and how to integrate it.
I think that’s where I am right now, I’m working at a knot. Earlier this year I had multiple strands flying and all was going well. Then almost without me noticing, things started to get snarled up. The knot is a little too tight, and the only thing I can do is be careful and patient, wiggling it loose. Everything is at a standstill, until this knot is undone.
Somewhere on the other side of this knot is something new, I can feel it. A new patch to overlay and integrate with the rest of my identity sweater. But I have to work at this knot first. I’ll let you know when I’m done…