I’m reading a book with some coworkers called Moving Diversity Forward: How to Go From Well-Meaning to Well-Doing (buy it here). Part of it is examining diversity in your life and diverse parts of your identity. Here are the questions we’re discussing:
1) What is your race, your ethnicity, your socioeconomic class (now and growing up), your religion, your gender? (feel free to share other identities you consider important).
2) What types of diversity have there been in the various stages of your life?
3) What do you like about your cultural background?
4) What do you find difficult or what don’t you like about your cultural background?
Thinking about this sparked my own thought process around my identity and what exactly has shaped me into the person I am. I realized there are three defining identities I embraced/shed that drastically have shaped who I am today:
Walking away from Christianity
When I was 16 after years of reading the bible, going to multiple churches, heavily participating in numerous mission trips, and spending hours of my life praying… I walked away from it after a huge argument with my youth group pastor that proved to be the final straw. I couldn’t do it anymore. Right when I needed the church and God the most, I found myself empty handed and realized the religion I believed in simply didn’t exist.
This was probably the hardest to overcome – rather than walking into a new community of people, I was completely let go of one. A community I spent hours with each week suddenly was gone and didn’t make an effort to reach back out. I was forcefully alone without religion in a sudden drop off. I’m better for it now but at the time it was incredibly disorienting to wake up and no longer be able to believe after years of wrestling with it.
Coming out as LGBTQ
I’ll never forget the moment I went to my first rugby practice. I had only ever hung around LGBTQ women who were deeply in the closet and who never spoke about their sexuality. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by women who knew their sexual identity and spoke about it in passing as one would what they are having for dinner tonight. It was so casual, comfortable, and natural that slipping on this identity was effortless. The second I had this interaction, it was easy to say to myself “ah this is me”. It wasn’t so easy with my parents or with some friends but overall I made it through with a strong community.
This was the easiest for me to accept. I am most myself when I am loving and to be able to understand who and how I love was and still is incredible. This was the hardest for others to accept (even compared to Christianity!). All of the folks who didn’t know how to handle this identity change were in fact Christian so it almost felt like two slaps in the face back to back over the years. The saving grace of all of this was the community I found in this new identity – people who loved me for me and knew me for me. Rather than leaving a community, I entered one.
Redefining myself outside of athletics
I tore my ACL towards the end of my freshmen year. I had never suffered such a bad injury in sports and it radically changed how I had to view my self worth. Being active was something I had done my entirely life. I remember 2 weeks after having surgery, asking my girlfriend at the time to basically be my gym buddy because I was still in crutches and it wasn’t safe for my knee for me to try dragging around weights. We went to the gym and I put my toughest face on trying to do all the upper body exercises I could. I was so determined not to let this beat me that I had to change who I was and what I valued:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
^ this gets to the core of it. I wasn’t that stud athlete anymore. I had to relearn how to climb stairs and jog. It felt so demoralizing and brought me to an incredibly low point in my life. This injury also changed me because, as a result of this, I turned more towards technology to fill the void. I took on more jobs, learned new skills, and began building my identity so that it wasn’t dependent on this one massive aspect of my life. I came out the other side more well rounded and balanced than when I entered. I still consider myself an athlete but it’s not my first descriptor and it’s most certainly not the only one I use to define myself by. Through tearing my ACL, I learned I’m more than just an athlete. I learned that there is a whole community of people who care enough about me to drive me to doctor appointments, visit me after surgery, encourage me to do one more set at the gym, and send me texts checking in on how I’m holding up. I leaned on community through this period of my life deeply.
It’s fun to think about these different aspects of ourselves – what moments transformed us and what roles people in our lives played throughout them. Who I am? How did I get to be this person? All of these breaking points taught me compassion and forgiveness. They’ve taught me how important community is and how the community you are in can make or break you. People change and the act of changing can be the hardest and most painful part. We can’t put others in a box and we can’t put ourselves there either.
While these are the moments that have defined me thus far, I’m curious to see what comes next and how my identity adapts. I know more breaking points will come.