“Being an individual requires having a room of one’s own, not because it is one’s possession, but because only there, in solitude, away from the pressure of others, can one develop the features and styles that differentiate one’s own being from others.” - Virginia Woolf
100 years ago, people stayed in one town, living with or near family, attending the same church for generation after generation. Our worlds were small and unified -- people were alike and wanted to fit in, and find their place within, their small communities.
Now we live in increasingly diverse settings with our lives and personalities partitioned. You might have a persona or social mask which varies between work, home, friends, extended family, and even Facebook.
As our lives grow increasingly fragmented, some say our sense of self does as well. Identities are no longer given to us as they once were. Very few people anymore say to children that they will be priests or wives or nurses or take over their father’s business because “this is what’s done.” Instead we are granted full agency with edicts like, “you can be anyone and do anything,” and we ask our children, “What do you WANT to be when you grow up?”
The modern world rejoices in this new freedom to construct our sense of self. How freeing! But it comes with a hearty dose of anxiety and confusion because how can any of us know, with certainty, who we are at our core or what we are able to accomplish.
Layer onto that, an image many of us have about “finding ourselves.” We often think of our authentic selves as being buried within us like a glowing orb that must be excavated to be known.
But here’s the thing: identity is not something we “are;” it is something we “do.”
Identity and sense of self are not static. Your authentic being is not “in the future” or out there hiding and waiting to be found. It is instead crafted day in and out by experience, behavior and the narratives we tell ourselves.
So what’s the lesson here? Essentially, it is that you must shape your identity, not “find” it. And if you do not actively create it, then it will be created for you by external forces. You will assume the identities given by your peers and social groups. Identities like, “dutiful daughter,” “partier,” “middle manager,” and so on.
Since your identity is, in and of itself, a journey, you must take a path, cultivate it and protect its integrity from counter-forces. Be your own identity reporter and ask yourself: What do I stand for? Who do I stand with? And how am I manifesting what matters in my life and the lives of others?
Realize this when you ask yourself, “Who am I... Really?” Beneath your aspirations, actions and character, you are no one. Those things ARE you. So do them with intention.