✔️What defines you.
✔️How others define you.
Identity is fucking complicated.
I grew up in a small town in Maine, where my father was the rector of the local Episcopal church. As a child and into my adolescent years, I allowed my identity as a preacher’s kid to dominate my existence. On Sundays, my sisters and I were meant to look the part. On weekdays, my behavior was often reported back to my parents by church-goers in the community. It was fuel for the rumor mill if I flirted with a boy at the bus stop, or didn’t do well on a project. I remember my middle sister coming home from a school dance (which was 80’s themed to the best of my memory) and getting in trouble because one of the chaperoning parents made sure to let everyone know that the preacher’s daughter had taken off her neon shirt and was only wearing a camisole. Gasp.
I went to boarding school for almost two years of high school, partly in hopes of creating my own identity. When I decided to come home halfway through my sophomore year (please note, decided) the rumors began to fly around town about how I must have been kicked out. I let them go for a while, actually. I cared less when the gossip wasn’t true. But I look back now and feel anger towards those people. My parents had been through a divorce that year, and my decision to come home was in direct response to what was happening in my family. The gossip and rumors, in this case, were easier to handle than the truth, but their words still hurt my teenage heart.
So, perhaps it was as a child that you first felt defined, too. You were the smart one, the funny one, or maybe the athletic one, and that was fine until everyone was shocked to see you do something else, right? You’ve been known as an athlete, and now you’ve signed up for the high school play…but what will people say?!
The truth is, we each have many identities. Here are a few of mine, in no particular order: Wife, Woman, Warrior, Writer, Dog Mom, Yogi, Spiritual Believer, Blogger, Fundraiser, Friend, Democrat, Liberal, Mental Health Patient, Mental Health Advocate, Introvert, Sister, Daughter, Aunt, Colleague.
I went to a professional development workshop last week. We did an exercise I think we should all do periodically; they called it an Identity Map. In the middle was a large circle for your name, and around that were five bubbles. The directions said to choose the five identities you are carrying closest with you TODAY. Just today. Just right now. Who are you?
We seek permission to be more than one thing, when actually we should be encouraging each other to be as many things as we can. We judge one another on ONE identity, and forget to look deeper for “what else.” This is the stem of the hate our society is fighting each day. When you judge someone on their race, their religion, their sexuality, you are taking away their ability to have multiple identities.
It was my first week of my Freshman year of college. I was in a new state, in a new place, without all of that “preacher’s daughter” baggage. My dad had just moved to a new church, and had introduced me to three kids my age from the church, all headed to Elon with me. So, weekend number one rolls around and I get invited to go to a Frat party with one of the guys from his church. Thrilled, I got all dressed up and ready to go. When we arrived, my new-found friend introduced me to the brothers there as “his priest’s daughter.” I looked at him with a scowl, and he quickly said, “She’s cool though, she drinks and has tattoos.” Well, then I was perhaps even more mortified.
I have always hated that feeling of being boxed in, un-allowed to make an impression for myself. I think it was one of the reasons I was afraid to use the word “writer” to describe myself for so long. I thought it had to be ALL that I was, instead of a self-proclaimed aspect of who I like in myself.
I challenge you to make your identity map for today, or for this week. Start small, and see which five identities you’re holding dear. What other identities came to mind but didn’t make the list. Write those outside the bubbles. Honor them, know them, and if there are identities you no longer wish to carry, see if there is a way to release it, or maybe just redefine it.
Transforming into your full, vibrant, bountiful self will take some time, some trial and error, and some hard work. But I can promise you that doing the work, the introspection, the writing, the praying, will be worth it when you no longer feel limited by your own idea of your identity.
Today, I’m proud to be a preacher’s kid. I’ve learned that my dad, too, has many identities. He’s a writer, baseball fan, bookworm, man of God, and much, much more. Below is a recent sermon he preached as his church in Raleigh, North Carolina, in which he talks about his mother, my beloved Grandmother. If you hear the word sermon and cringe, I urge you to give it a chance.
I wish I could go back in time, to let my younger self know how epic her dad is, and to stop always worrying what other people think.