Can I See Your I.D.?

Isn’t it sort of strange that the blanks you fill out to get your driver’s license have pretty much nothing to do with your actual identity? That’s right. Eye color, height, whether or not you are an organ donor, has nothing to do with who you really are. (That’s right, kids. Keep your liver or don’t. Your kidneys don’t define you.)

And okay, maybe you already knew that your entire identity is too big to fit on a card that you can fit in your wallet. But then again, if there was a card big enough, what would be on it?

I can distinctly remember discussing identity in one of my literature classes. It was with one of my favorite professors, and he was spouting, like a fount of wisdom. He challenged each of us to define the idea of identity. And each time, he shook his head and countered our explanation. I can recall him being especially frustrated when I stated that your identity is what you believe in and what you like and dislike. He told me if that were true, then we wouldn’t have an identity until we were born. I astutely replied with, “oh.”

So, an identity comes from birth, I had to reason. And then where does it go? Somewhere along the line, I think it must align itself with whatever people perceive of us. If we’re smart, we’re nerds. If we’re good at sports, we’re jocks. If we like school, we’re weird. And whether you accept or reject your label, whether you wear it proudly or like armor, it becomes a part of you. So much so, that when you are freed from the black and white judgment of your peers, you feel a little lost. I was a nerd in high school, you think. Now there are about a hundred other people who are smarter than me, if not more, at this company. Suddenly, without that preconceived notion of yourself that you can slip into like a second skin, you can’t be defined. You’re amorphous.

And then, you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out the identity that you should have been developing since, well, birth. Who am I, really? (I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately.) And how am I going to define my identity if the answer to the question who are you is something other than my favorite band, my job, my religion, my sexual preference, or my gender? (What do you mean the fact that I love Taylor Swift won’t help me to make big life decisions?) [April Fools! I hate T-Swift].

Of course, it helps to start with what you like. What you know about yourself to be true. But your identity will never simply be who or what you associate yourself with, so you’ll have to move on from there. Rather, identity is what my literature professor was trying to teach us all along: it is a workable concept that is as diverse as the amount of people who possess it. It is never attained, but exists all the same. Like you, identity is amorphous and never constant. But this is a fact to be proud of, not scared of. Having no definition does not always mean that you are lost, but rather, that there are infinite possibilities.

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