Mother. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Runner. Success Coach. Vegetarian. Teacher. Survivor. Advocate. Friend. Scholar.
The list above is fluid, but I would use all of those nouns to describe myself at any given time. There are also nouns which aren't included that people would use to describe me. I still classify myself as "young," and I know I have a lot to learn. However, I also know that I've grown and adapted throughout my life, and I've evolved my identity to help navigate through my particular roles in life.
Day 10: Create Your Own Identity
If you look at a dictionary (you won't because you probably can't even find one, but go with my metaphor please), you will find the word, the part of speech, the definition, and if your dictionary is fancy, some synonyms below the definition. Without getting too "Englishy," there are connotations and denotations for a word. The denotation is the dictionary definition. It's pretty objective, and most of us wouldn't argue about the dictionary definition of a specific word. The connotation of a word is a little more complex. The connotation is the way the word makes people feel - it's based more on the feelings and ideas the word evokes when written or spoken.
When I say the word "mother," there is a specific dictionary definition: "A woman in relation to her child or children." If you're a mother, I bet you just blew a bunch of air out of your nose because that definition is laughable. The reason it's laughable is because of the connotation of the word. You will personally define motherhood based on your experiences with your own children and mother. And if you're not careful, you will place your definition of motherhood over someone else's experiences and then define them as a mother based on your subjective background. We do it every day. We can't help it. As a matter of fact, it's a biological function meant to help us survive - we need to classify things, and we need them to fit into our classifications. There are also synonyms for "mother": parent, child-bearer, creator, mommy, source, etc. Each of those words evoke their own connotation in society as well.
I hope you can kind of see where I'm starting to go here. I used "mother" above as an example because my blog is supposed to be about motherhood; however, this lesson actually applies more to my career. For 5 years, I was a "teacher." A teacher, by dictionary definition, is "a person who teaches, especially in a school." For 5 years, I would be in any given store within a 30 mile radius of my home and hear, "MRS. KRIEGEL!" I would be scrolling Facebook, and I'd see an article about Betsy DeVos, and I'd be an idiot and click the "comments" button only to be enraged by inflammatory comments about teachers. Teaching became my identity, and how people felt about me as a teacher became a veil I stood behind. I was Emily Kriegel, mother and teacher, because that's how the world perceived me.
It becomes very dangerous when you let society's perception of a role become your identity - especially when that role is extraordinarily consuming (teacher, mother, father, doctor, etc). But in the chaos of every day life, it almost becomes easier to let everyone else define you. Heck, it's one less thing you have to put on your "to-do" list. In teaching, I lost who I was. **DISCLAIMER: I impacted a lot of lives, and I will never discount my time as a teacher.** I devoted every minute of every day pouring my time, energy, and emotion into what I perceived to be expected of me in my identity as a teacher. Above I said, "I was Emily Kriegel, mother and teacher," but the fact was, I was "mother and teacher"...there was no "Emily Kriegel" about it. It is noble and beautiful to give selflessly, BUT when you give selflessly to others before you give to yourself, you run a high risk of burnout. When you burnout and have to walk away from the identity you let others give you, you walk away with what feels like nothing. Who was I if I wasn't a teacher? I didn't know. And, that hurt. That made me resentful. That made me look back over my very successful 5 year career and see it as a loss.
It wasn't until I realized that I could create my own definition and apply my own connotation to my identity that I realized nothing is done for nothing. So, let's return to the word "teacher." Some synonyms for "teacher" include coach, advisor, scholar, and tutor. I'm still a teacher. I will always be a teacher. I just may not fit into the conventional idea of a teacher to all the people I meet. If I let them define my career, my passions, my identity based on their connotations of the roles I carry, I lose all control over who I have been and who I will become. If you've been letting people define your identity, be honest with yourself. If your career or hobbies went away right now, would you still be able to identify who you are? If your answer is "no," it's time for you to write your own definitions. It's time for you to find out who you truly are. This might sound pessimistic, but I see it as inspiring: in the end, if everything else disappeared, you'd be left with yourself. Are you comfortable spending time with just her?