I’d like to think I know myself. It’s a comforting thought, that I’m aware of myself. What would we do with ourselves if we didn’t know what we wanted from life? From puberty on we’re told to form an “identity”. But I’m starting to think it makes it easier on others, rather than ourselves, when we categorize our every want and dislike. If I were to cling to certain identity cues that I amassed over my adolescent years I wouldn’t have been able to expand very much.
When I reached puberty age, or the dreadful teen years, I fancied myself a little bit of a rebel, or a weirdo. I thought it was cool to characterize myself as a poetic, bubbly, spaz that enjoyed punk music. For a couple years, I wrote things like “I’m random, outgoing, and like listening to music.” Who doesn’t like listening to music? Oy vey I was a dolt then. At any rate, I’m not really, nor was I ever any of those things. I’m not particularly bubbly, (I tend to intimidate people when I first meet them), I’m not very random (I have a coherent train of thought that most others would understand), and I’m not worth a damn when it comes to writing poetry. I felt forced into identifying myself at the time. People started to wear clothes that their parents didn’t pick out, and they started to choose a genre of music that would define a larger part of their personality for the next couple of years. Basically we were all trying to be one-dimensional then. My theory is we did this because we wanted it to be simple for others to know who we were instantaneously, therefore making ourselves more memorable.
By putting the pressure on teens to stake out their personas, they often limited what their personalities could encompass. At the age it’s all about extremities. Not many are complex at that age because it’s important to stick to one image and let others know that image is you. I started wearing black band t-shirts, and then I decided the black was too goth, so I started wearing colorful band tees with knee high multicolored socks, just to let everyone know I wasn’t shy and I was willing to be weird or different. At the time, clothing was the best medium to use to project that message. This is troubling because when people place their name and reputation so exclusively on one trait it essentially bars them from any kind of organic mixture of traits that could be picked up from a variety of personal experiences.
To bring this idea up to an adult level, I’ll pose the example of say a working mom. She probably identifies herself first and foremost as MOM. Not to say that your own children shouldn’t be important to you, but you see how limiting that i.d. is? There are tons of moms in the world. If you just label yourself as MOM, you start to ask yourself, “What would a MOM do in this situation?” Anything that wouldn’t fit the generic MOM role would ordinarily not be done. If the ideal MOM would do “something”, then it’s an okay “something” to do if you really identify as a MOM. Say her secondary i.d. is her job as a banker. We run into the same problem, “Would a BANKER do this?” Instead of asking yourself if it’s something you truly want to do, you ask if it will interfere with the image you’ve created of yourself. As Lady Chatterly said to her sister, “Perhaps you are a slave to your own idea of yourself.” Rather than truly enjoying life and its multitude of options and splendors, one ponders how it will affect the pretty picture you’ve painted of your personality.
But the brain isn’t that simple. We have varying moods and inclinations. Some days I feel like reading, and some days I’d prefer to watch a movie. If I choose to read one day am I a READER? If the next day I choose to watch a movie, am I a CINEMA BUFF and no longer a READER? One might say you can be both, sure I can. But if I walk to class am I a WALKER? If I drink a root beer sometimes and a grape soda sometimes which type of soda drinker am I? The point I’m making is that there are simply too many choices, small and large, to say that each and every thing I decide to do is either a part of my identity or not. It’s too fluid to try and constrain it. Gradual changes dominate our preferences. To say I’m entirely one thing one day and entirely another the next is bullshit. Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day our minds aren’t made up in an instant.
Categorizing our identities isn’t new by any means. One could argue that appearance to others was more important culturally in the past. But the occurrence of key phrases to describe a personality certainly has been influenced by social media sites. Everything from online dating to facebook even to online portfolios have an “About Me” section. How am I supposed to fit everything about myself in a tiny box? In the past it took a lot more effort to get to know someone. People are a lot more than their likes and dislikes, their professions, and their schooling. There are too many intricacies to put into a box on the internet. Only someone close to me would know that I am neat and OCD, with a weird habit of counting the number of letters in words and arranging them in my mind on a keyboard in a way that satisfies me. That’s something I wouldn’t type into a social media site. And there’s probably oodles more that are smaller than that that all come together to make up the Katie Bell you experience before you.
We simply can’t slave away at an image we want to portray. Being who you are shouldn’t really take effort, it’s just you, without any garnishes or gimmicks. People who surround you will be able to understand versions of you in the context they see you. My parents witness a different Katie than my roommates do. Part of our personalities is simply how we react to the environment around us. Less thinking is more in this case I think. So when I say the cheesy line, “Be yourself.” Don’t ask, “How?” Just do.