All of us are always trying to find ourselves. “What is my purpose on this earth?” I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves that at least once. Most of us have probably asked ourselves that more than we’d like to admit. Well, who are we exactly? Why are you here? What is your identity? I thought I’d figured out the answer to that question multiple times only to figure out that I was wrong each time. It seemed like trying to find an identity for myself was the problem itself. It seemed like the search was what was creating the problems. It wasn’t solving them. You may not agree with me on this one and that’s ok because I too want to learn. I honestly didn’t even know if I should bother posting this, but as you can see, I did. In order to better understand what I’m talking about, we’ll need to hop in a time machine back to 2013. There will be a lot of time travel in this post, so if you’re a skeptic, just use your imagination!
Here we gooooooo swoooooosh!
If you survived the ride, you’ll notice that we’re now in the year 2013. Obama is still the president and I’m 19 again! Yay! If only I knew then what I know now. Anyway, that’s besides the point. I was a very different person at 19. I was still shy and confused. Not that I’m not now, but I was MORE shy and confused at 19. I used to love being active back in these days. The gym was like my second home and I’d taken a bit of a break, but was planning to get back into it if I remember correctly. I still hadn’t lost too much mass at this point. Everything was looking pretty good. I’d get back into the gym, go harder than before and get in even better shape… at least that’s what I thought… One day at work I was taking out the garbage with a coworker and he was opening the garage door while I was dragging the garbage bin into the garage. He accidentally pulled the chain the wrong way which made the garage door close rather than open. The garage door fell on me and injured my left side. I knew I was hurt and texted a few people explaining how I was in pain and stuff, but I figured it would go away with time. I didn’t know back then that you were supposed to report injuries to the managers right away as it was my first job. Long story short the injury got worse and worse which completely shattered my dream of going back to the gym. I’m not going to get into the whole story about what happened after or how it was dealt with because that’s irrelevant to the to message I’m trying to get across here.
That garage door didn’t just injure my body, it also shattered my identity. The identity I’d created for myself at the time was “The guy who loves working out and goes to the gym a lot”. This wasn’t to show off to to other people. This is just how I saw myself. The garage door falling on me stopped me from being able to go to the gym. Which made me question who I was. The gym wasn’t just a building I’d go to. The gym was part of me. Losing the ability to work out left me wondering who I was. I’d just lost the ability to do my favourite activity. If I wasn’t a gym rat, who was I?
Losing my religion
I grew up Christian. I was Christian for most of my life. I used to be a pretty firm believer. Christianity was my identity. I used to get so offended when people would attack Christianity and I used to get so angry when Tv shows would mock Jesus. I was religious, but didn’t really go to church very often. There was also one problem… As I got older, I started to question things more. The answers I got started pushing me more in the direction of science which really scared me and threatened who I thought I was. Determined not to lose my faith, I started going to church again. Church was fun and the people there were really nice, but being in church and being more surrounded by Christianity than I was before caused me to think about it more which led me to asking more questions. The questions I was asking were really starting to shake my faith, so I ultimately stopped going to church altogether. Ironic, right? All this questioning wasn’t just shaking my faith, but it was also shaking my concept of who I was. Christianity had become my identity, so if I lost my faith it would be like losing part of myself. Who would I be without Christianity? If we fast forward to about 2014, we get to a time when my whole outlook on religion had changed. There were many things in the bible that I just couldn’t believe, so I started telling myself that maybe the bible was just half right. Maybe they had it wrong. I started creating my own interpretation of Christianity. One that had no hell because I didn’t get how a loving, all-knowing God would punish you for eternity because you couldn’t resist the sin that he himself allowed to enter the world. When I’d share my beliefs with other Christians, they’d tell me I was lost or try to correct me. I was starting to become aware of the fact that I may actually not be Christian. The term agnostic scared me. “I can never become one of them!” I’d routinely think to myself. That just wasn’t who I was.
Fast forward two more years and it’s now the year 2016. This was the first year that I finally realized that I wasn’t Christian. I had been in denial for so long. It felt so weird to finally accept that I wasn’t Christian anymore, to no longer believe in prayer, to no longer feel guilty for being human and having flaws.
What followed? Depression and an intense feeling of being lost and lonely. My identity was shattered. If I wasn’t Christian, who was I? It took a long time to recover from all this because I’d been Christian my whole life up until that point.
The unofficial therapist
After being lost for a while after losing my religion, I discovered that helping people seemed to be my calling. People would come to me with their problems and I’d try to help them to the best of my ability. Some people would come to me with some deep shit. Nothing illegal, just stuff that must have really hurt them. I’d always try to help them. I thought that was a good thing, but little did I know, I was creating yet another new identity for myself. I never agreed with this, but some people would refer to me as a God when it came to giving advice. I started to try to embody the identity that other people were creating for me by trying to always make it seem like I was doing well because I knew people looked up to me for hope. I’d try to never let myself feel like how the people I helped felt. It wasn’t who I was.
Eventually there was a time when things got shitty and I remember what hurt me the most was the fact that people would see that I wasn’t immune to everything I tried to help them with. It made me feel like I lied to people(Even though I didn’t) and I just couldn’t stop thinking “I’m supposed to be the one who helps people when they struggle. I’m not supposed to be the one struggling”. I believed all that despite the fact that I was fully aware of the fact that I’m human just like everyone else. That shattered my identity once again. Which led to feeling lost and everything all over again. Wonderful!
So what changed?
Nowadays I try to avoid having a fixed identity for myself. Does that mean I avoid doing everything altogether and hibernate at home and watch Netflix? No..I mean.. yes.. I mean I admit to nothing!
Bad jokes aside, the answer is, I don’t avoid doing things. I still have hobbies, friends and a job. The only thing I do differently is I do things for the sake of doing them or because they need to be done. Not because they’re who I am. I like to learn languages, but they’re not who I am and languages don’t define me, so if I ever stop learning languages (which has happened many times believe it or not) I don’t end up questioning my identity. I LOVE to travel, but it’s also not who I am, so if I’m every unable to travel(like right now) I won’t have to question my identity or purpose. This is the same for other areas of my life and it can be the same for you too!
You can love soccer and dedicate your life to it without it becoming your identity. You can be a pro gamer without making that your identity. You can try to be selfless and do things for the betterment of the world and humankind without making that your identity.
Other people can also create identities for you, but you don’t have to view yourself the way they do. Everybody will have a different identity and perception of you. Maybe they met you when you were having a bad day and were being rude to people in which case their identity for you could be “The rude asshole I don’t like”. Maybe they met you at a charity event while you were having a good day and were treating people nicely in which case their identity for you could be “the selfless Good Samaritan”. At the end of the day, the most important thing is how YOU see your yourself.
When things threaten our identities, we hide from them!
I was in denial for so long after I originally got injured. It took so long to just accept it. It was hard because it felt like a part of me was dying or that I was losing myself. That’s how it felt when I lost my religion too. I’m sure you, the reader can relate to this too. I’m sure everyone has been in denial about something at least once in their lives because it called into question who they thought they were.
I’m going to give you guys an example of how making something your identity can hurt you and how detaching yourself from the identity can make your life easier. I seem to know a lot of very “honest” and “observant” people. I honestly don’t know how I managed to meet so many, but I did. When I first starting losing weight from being unable to work out and started bumping into people who hadn’t seen me since my workout days, the first thing a lot of people would say was “Damn! you lost a lot of muscle!” or “You got so much smaller!”. The gym and being fit was still part of my identity at the time, so those comments used to offend me to no end. Now, however, I’ve detached myself form that identity. That’s no longer what defines me or what makes me who I am. I still get comments like that from time to time, but they don’t bother me or offend me like they did before because they don’t make me question who I am. See the difference? Which reaction would you prefer to have?
Pretty much what I’m trying to say with this article is that we shouldn’t let any one thing define us or make us who we are. Life is full of experiences and the way you view yourself is and will always be changing. The way other people view you is always changing too! Don’t let any one thing define you! Do things because you want to! Don’t do things out of fear of losing “yourself”. I personally don’t believe that anyone ever “finds” themself . I think it’s a continuous journey and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that going with the flow can be easier than constantly fighting the current!
As always, get out there and chase your dreams!
This article is based solely on my opinion. I’m not claiming that it’s objectively true, it’s just what works for me and you are allowed to disagree with me. If you disagree please leave a comment below, so that I too can learn! Thanks for reading!
This picture was taken at Montmorency falls in Quebec City, Canada