What Defines Identity?

Somehow, this has turned into the week of me trying to write about myself in a professional manner.

Earlier this week, I was asked to write a short biography about myself to be displayed at my place of work. The thought of writing something like that seemed so incredibly daunting to me -- college is (in my opinion) about "finding yourself" (and maybe learning how to write without clichés), and I was asked essentially to sum up my existence in a few sentences.

Naturally, I asked my friends for help. Literally every single one of them said to say "I like to do yoga and eat candy". Not super helpful.

I've also been working on my resumé this week. My dad was coaching me through it, asking me to talk about my skills. Of course, I responded with "Eating candy? A yoga certification?". ... At least from this experience we know my friends and I are a good fit.

Really, though, a lot of my thinking lately has centered around what makes us who we are. There was an art piece in the CFA last week where everyone wrote descriptions of themselves on a chalkboard - people wrote words like "gay", "tatted", "Iowan", "aunt", "democrat", "agnostic", "dancer", "art major", "upper middle class", "lover", etc.

Of course, this made me think back to my J-Term course on borders and identity in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. There, people define themselves a lot based on the land where they live - if the land is "Palestine" or "Israel", if their ancestors had lived there, if God had promised it to them, what side of the wall or the river it exists. Religion (obviously) also plays a major role in defining identity in that part of the Middle East.

I think in the West, we identify ourselves a lot with labels - we're "mom" and "wife" and "sister" and "daughter" and "neighbor" and "banker" and "baker" and "prankster" and "runner" and "optimist" and "Christian" and "yogi" and "gluten free" and "procrastinator" and all of these other things. And I don't think these labels are inherently bad -- they make living in our culture and deciding what we value a lot more simplistic -- but I don't think they're really what defines our identity.

Let's think of it this way -- if you're a vegetarian and make the decision to begin eating meat again, do you become a different person? Does your identity - your core, your soul - change based on what food you put inside of your body? Or, more of an extreme example. Let's say you're married, and for whatever reason, your spouse is no longer in your life (through death, divorce, etc.). If you're no longer a "wife" or a "husband", are you still the same person? This experience would obviously help shape the person you're becoming, but does that change your identity? Is identity fluid, constantly changing, or is it something that is inherently a part of us from birth until death (or after death?). If we identify with another person, or an emotion, or a task, does that make it a part of us? And if we no longer identify with this, does that mean we lose a part of ourselves? If we don't easily give this up (like not getting over a divorce for years and years), does that mean we're being "true to ourselves" and our identities, or does that simply mean we're obsessive, or mentally and emotionally unwell, or something else?

 I still don't have the answers to any of these things, and I'm not sure if it's something I ever will. I know that the courses I'm looking at for next year have a lot to do with how people define themselves and how they define "other" (which is the Paideia theme for first-years this year -- I'm incredibly jealous!). Hopefully I'll have more beautiful insights to share, soon.

 It would just be a whole lot easier to say, "Hi, I'm Catherine. I like sunshine, Diet Coke, watching Friends, singing in the car, going to the yoga studio, going for walks through the woods, and laughing until my stomach hurts.", but that's not going to get me very far professionally.

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