The Danger of a Singular Identity
I am a writer. This is my identity and has been for most of my life. About a week ago, though, I began to question this.
While I am undoubtedly a writer – I’m a journalist, I write fiction, and I’m always thinking of new stories – is this really my only identity? I’ve always said that above all I’m a writer. Then someone said something to me that at first made me kind of angry.
“Writing is your job,” they said. “It’s not who you are.”
I didn’t understand this. I chose writing as my career because it’s what I love, it’s my passion. Choosing anything else would have gone against my desire to make a career out of something I truly love. Because writing is my job and my passion, I don’t always think about my life as having a work/life balance. I write at work, I write at home – it’s all the same and it’s what I like.
This isn’t about the importance of a work/life balance (I’ll save that for a future post). It’s about tying up your entire identity in one thing.
“What if you lost your ability to write?” the person had asked me.
The Met Gala was held this past Monday in New York and as he’s done the past few years, Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York took photos. A photo of Selena Gomez stood out to me, not just because I LOVE her, but because of what she said.
“I feel like I’m just starting, but I think I’d be fine if it all went away. I get that from my mother. From the moment I started singing, she always reminded me that all of this was a privilege, and could be taken at any moment. So singing is not how I define myself. I try to keep my identity rooted in my friendships and my faith.” (Link to entire collection of Met Gala stories can be found in bio.)
This really resonated with me, and not just because I’m afraid I’ll lose my ability to write or my privilege to do what I love for a living. I’m not worried that if I suddenly couldn’t write I wouldn’t know who I am. I’m worried that my existing feelings of not knowing who I am are stemming from my singular identity as a writer.
Writing is just one facet of my life, but by making it my whole life, I’m missing out on everything else. I’m denying myself the opportunity to be a more well rounded person. As a result I’ve been stressed, confused, and unsatisfied. I’m not exploring my interests and letting myself be free to try new things. I’m holding myself back.
One thing I’ve found myself doing a lot since graduating college is trying to stick myself in a box. I’ve thought that I could only be one thing or one certain way. For example, I love the ocean and marine mammals and a year or so ago I began questioning whether I should even be a journalist because of this interest. I wondered if I should try and start a new career. When I realized I couldn’t, I began to neglect the interest.
Thinking about that now, I realize how backwards that thinking is. Why can’t I be a journalist who learns about the ocean for fun and volunteers in the field in my spare time? My desire to stick with my singular identity of a writer has held me back from exploring other areas of my life.
I’ve realized that it’s not healthy to define yourself by your career. There are so many other things that make people who they are. I’ve often heard people say that when you first meet someone you shouldn’t ask what they do for work, you should ask them how they spend their time. I never truly grasped why that was so important until recently.
A career doesn’t make someone who they are. Having varied interests and personality quirks are what add up to one whole person. And it adds depth and layers to who a person is.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about who I am. Yes, I’m a writer. I’m also an ambitious, funny, and caring person who loves animals and traveling, is passionate about women’s and girls’ rights, and values friendship and being with other people.
I want to explore all these other parts of myself. I already do somewhat with volunteer work, but I never allow myself to become really invested in these interests. Whenever I’m working on a project for fun, such as painting or scrapbooking, I tend to think of it as time I’m wasting by not writing. And at that point, writing starts to seem like something I’m supposed to be doing, not something I want to be doing.
Making your career your sole identity makes your career less enjoyable. Doing any one thing all the time will make it less enjoyable. I’ve started to realize that by shifting my focus away from writing some of the time, I’ll be a better writer when I actually am writing. Not only will I be more energized by the other things going on in my life, I’ll probably have some amazing experiences to draw from.
I’m curious – what are your identities? Do you have multiple? Are they defined by personality traits, interests, social labels? Let me know ↓