As a member of Gen Z, I’m accustomed to receiving blame for advancing the world’s identity crisis regarding race, gender, sexuality, politics—you name it. Albeit this grand shift predates my generation, we are somehow being likened to the horsemen of this perceived apocalypse. I know some Christians reading this must be quaking in their boots. But nevertheless, if you’ve ever wondered why people’s arguments and heated discussions often revolve around these topics, it is because believe it or not, we intertwine these social concepts within our identities.
Granted, this is fair – life is all about social groups and every living thing belongs to one. However, should our identities be solely tied to these societal labels?
Let’s define identity.
Let’s set the stage, shall we?
an individual’s sense of self defined by (a) a set of physical, psychological, and interpersonal characteristics that is not wholly shared with any other person and (b) a range of affiliations (e.g., ethnicity) and social roles. Identity involves a sense of continuity, or the feeling that one is the same person today that one was yesterday or last year (despite physical or other changes). Such a sense is derived from one’s body sensations; one’s body image; and the feeling that one’s memories, goals, values, expectations, and beliefs belong to the self. Also called personal identity.APA
Our identities are the core of our beings. Therefore, when these concepts and values are threatened or shaken, we may feel confused, angry and frustrated because, without these, we perceive ourselves to be nothing.
If you’re on Twitter, you may see the buzz surrounding the book written by Jennette McCurdy—former child star from Nickelodeon’s iCarly—titled ‘I’m Glad My Mom Died’ In this book, Jennette describes the levels of self-hate she bears for her childhood career on iCarly as Sam Puckett. She doesn’t even want to be associated with the character and flat-out wishes it never happened, due to the lifelong trauma and pain it caused her. Jennette feels like the mistake that was her childhood acting career, is something she’ll never outlive.
Do you ever feel like this? I know I have. In 2015 I started my sixth form studies at a different high school. One of the main reasons why I decided not to return to my alma mater was the need for newness and something different…But then I saw someone from primary school and all that shame and disgrace that I had buried for 5 years resurfaced. I tried to ‘hide them out’, but my efforts were in vain. Who I was in 2009 conflicted with who I was at that moment in 2015. Like Jennette, I felt that I couldn’t escape the embarrassment that was my 12yo self and it plunged me into a depression.
While many of us managed to transition from shameful past tense to a more comfortable and promising present tense, many of us did otherwise. We buried that self-identity deep within our subconscious, hoping to never see it again. But as the good ol’ saying goes, “what’s in the dark, must come to the light.” Our past selves will always make an unexpected visit and we simply have to deal with it. The question is, how? How do we welcome this unwanted and unwelcome visitor?
When we stare at the mirror on the wall and it shows us the least fair of them all, it makes us want to scream, shout and do everything to drown it out (I promise this isn’t a children’s poem). But rather than becoming consumed by frustration and regret, how about we spring into curiosity and a willingness to change?
For this task, we will compare the Past and Present. Now, doing this may make you cringe, get upset, want to cry, or just do anything else that’s less stressful. But we have to try. To make it easier, let’s draw up some three-columned tables under the headings of values, beliefs, social groups, and behaviours,. Create three sub-headings titled Past, Present and Future. It should look something like this:
If you have any time to spare after reading this, try this activity!
This exercise helps us to appreciate our life’s journey on where we were, where we are now and where we can be. It has shown me how much I have grown throughout childhood and adolescence, where I am now in young adulthood and where I can be tomorrow. I see early elements of my identity that had changed and some that may never change. I also see what I need to do to facilitate the Tafari of tomorrow.
What came to mind when thinking about who you’d like to be?
If the image of the happy spouse behind a loving family in a big house driving a fancy car, all funded by a successful career—then I have a question for you…who will you be if you’re not successful in checking these boxes?
Don’t get me wrong, these milestones are important to our feelings of self-worth and value later in our lives. But should we tie these (almost entirely) materialistic achievements to our personal identity? I ask because I believe that we are more than these things. Unfortunately, many of us do not. And if that’s how you think, you may be setting yourself up for feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, self-loathing and envy, should you not be successful in checking these boxes.
And when you are successful, if your identity and self-worth are exclusively entrenched in these achievements, you’ll have effectively reduced yourself to being a shallow human being lacking in depth of character. It’s similar to those rich people who always seem lonely and hollow, despite having all they need.
We can lose our possessions in a flash at any time and our self-image must remain resolute despite these changes.
This world has, is and will perpetually be ever-changing. As a young man charting his path, sometimes I feel lost amid the chaos and confusion from the infamous world identity crisis. Lately, I have been struggling to figure out who I’ll be in the next 3, 5 and 10 years regarding professionalism and academics. A dear friend of mine would always say “Taf, you’re rushing life too much. Slow down and enjoy your youth.” I have now come to the mind-blowing realization, that, I need to give myself the space and grace to grow, learn and flourish.
If this post has been food for thought for you, then I hope that your belly is full! Leave a comment below and let’s keep the discussion going. And as always, thanks for reading.