Monday, January 20, 2014

Identity crisis

I rather impulsively posted the following status update on Facebook the other day:

"Guys, I'm having an identity crisis.

I've been working through a book of exercises for 20-somethings for the past month, and I just finished reading a section about disentangling who you are from what you do. But I've noticed multiple times that when I take away my title as "writer," I literally have no idea who I am or why I matter to the world.

Does anybody else struggle with this? Do you tie the entire meaning of your existence to what you do?

Help."

It's true. Ever since I started writing, I've felt a sense of meaning and purpose in my life. I would think, "This is what I am meant to do. This is what makes me important in the world, even if it makes me just a little bit more important than I used to be."

The book I've been reading has really encouraged me to peel back a lot of layers in my life. It has led to a lot of self-discovery, not all of it very comforting. One of my latest realizations is that I have been tying a large chunk of my identity to my job for a long time. When I'm not working or not working on something I enjoy, I feel worthless. When I describe myself, the things I like about myself, and the things I enjoy doing, most of those things have something to do with my ability to create. While this isn't necessarily a terrible thing (because it's good to do something you can feel good and passionate about), it's detrimental to my self-esteem. If I'm not a writer, I don't really know who I am. It's unsettling.

The book I'm referring to (20 Something, 20 Everything) asked the following questions in an exercise about separating who you are from what you do:

1. Do you think a job can make you feel better about yourself? Will it (or does it) validate you?

2. Do you think you must have a career in order to feel successful?

3. Do you feel embarrassed when someone asks you what you do for a living? Are you ashamed of what you do?

4. Do you think people would think more of you if you had a better job?

5. Do you think your life would be better if you had a job you loved?

6. Do you ever feel worthless because you do not think you are doing something important?

I answered "yes" or "sometimes" to every single question. Ever since I got out of high school, I've been driven by the need to do something. When my writing finally started to take off and I started landing gigs here and there, it validated me as a human. And even though I enjoy what I do (most of the time), I still don't feel established enough. I don't make enough money. I don't have enough notoriety in the world of writers. I haven't succeeded at something big or super note-worthy. I'm always wanting more and feeling embarrassed and less than when I don't live up to expectations. Therefore, I tie my identity and self-worth to how much I do.

And despite knowing that this is an unhealthy mentality, I can't seem to break it. No matter how many times I am reminded that I am worthy simply for existing, I just don't feel important unless I'm doing something productive and meaningful.

Sometimes I can't help but ask myself if I've really grown much at all. I tied my sense of self-worth to what I did (or didn't do) after high school, and I've recently realized that I'm still doing it now. Sure, I found something I'm passionate about that gives me a sense of meaning, but if I'm not doing or succeeding at that something, I still judge myself---just like I did 4 years ago.

Maybe it will take a lot of time and self-awareness to break this awful habit of mine. Maybe it will take going on a vacation and vowing not to touch my laptop while I'm away. Maybe it will take a lot more internal searching and a lot less external searching (like asking complete strangers to validate me and tell me who I am on Facebook).

Who are you when you're not doing anything? Who are you when no one is watching?

<3 Madison     

34 comments:

  1. Hello Madison! I enjoy reading your blog, and can totally relate to this post (as with many others). This identity crisis has been haunting me for the past few years ever since reaching my tweens. I feel like reflecting back at life, it feels like I'm worthless, and even though everyday I try to "make a difference" its pretty hard trying to find the motivation. I too started focusing in writing two years back and I feel like when I'm writing a piece I feel exhilarated and alive. I suppose getting a resultant piece of what you've written feels like you brought something to life, and that becomes my accomplishment. So, yes I suppose everyone does attach their self-worth to the work they put in, because I for one am down in the dumps if I don't get my creative juices flowing.
    Cheers,
    Fatimah :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi! Thanks for reading. I relate to everything you wrote. It's difficult to remind myself of my worth when I'm not doing or creating anything.

      Good luck to you on your journey! :-)

      ~ Madison

      Delete
  2. Gandhi said," everything we do in our lives are insignificant and yet we must do them". and also john keats said the virtue about negative capability, he said one must harness negative capability, that is to be surrounded by mysteries, doubts and uncertainties of life yet not to have an urge to search for the meaning of it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I found your post on Tiny Buddha and I just wanted to read more. This piece you wrote here is so inspiring and thought provoking. I myself am in sort of the same boat. I wonder who I would be if I didn't have what I have now or do what I tie myself to... Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, a few people have expressed struggling with the same thing. I must admit that it's nice to know I'm not alone. Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  4. I have sort of the opposite problem: I feel uncomfortable when I try to label myself. Nothing ever feels like "me." I am not my job even though I enjoy it. I am not the activities and causes that I enjoy and devote myself to. My crisis has been finding the label(s) that I resonate with. (And wondering if I should be doing more with my life.)

    I, too, came to your blog from Tiny Buddha. Thank you for your insight!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading!

      Maybe we don't have to specifically label ourselves...I guess I just struggle with truly knowing who I am at my roots when everything I do or have is stripped away. It's uncomfortable territory to explore. For so long, I've felt so comfortable behind the mask of "writer." Without it, I feel naked and weird.

      I also wonder if I should be doing more with my life, but I think everyone feels that way. You're definitely not alone. :-)

      Glad you enjoyed my Tiny Buddha post!

      Delete
    2. Hi Madison! It's interesting to read your blog and relate to the things you are dealing with, then to see that you are still in your twenties. I am turning 60 in April and will tell you that I deal with some of these same things you write about and have been asking some of the same question, only not for the first time. I am finding in the journey of life, there are definitely high's and low's throughout. One's responsibilities have a major bearing on how you feel about yourself. I am an Artist. Have been the creative sort since a very young age. As I look back on my past, my artistic abilities changed depending on my mindset of a particular time. When I was in my twenties fresh out of college, I was in to trying new techniques and stretching my creativeness to see where it might lead me. Once I got married, it was important to think of how my creativeness could become a supporting kind of career since we were thinking of expanding on our home and having a family. Then when the children did come along, it was another creative change, teaching my boys about creativity. Not only art, but music, writing, and using their imagination to create. Whether it was for an artistic endeavor, or solving a daily situation in life. I have a wonderful studio where I taught three or four full classes a week during the time they were growing up, and was very involved with doing art work for the school which I got decent pay for(large murals, special art classes, subbing on a regular basis for the Art teachers), as well as selling original work on line. Now that my boys are up and on their own, I have come to another time for change. I am now asking myself the questions you have been asking yourself, and the ones I have asked myself at each of the different plateaus of my life. Each stage has seemed to lead me into another level of creativeness. It is amazing to see how my creative life has evolved over the years. I don't think the questions will ever go away. I do think they get attended to by the responsibilities of your present everyday life.I think we gradually grow our own roots and pass a start of them onto others as we go along. I also think we are labeled by others through the work we do throughout our lives. The more Art I make and present, the more I am known for the label 'Artist'. I then, can give that label even more definition by doing certain kinds of Art. Also, I find more motivation by doing more, and being around others who I can talk to about my particular craft. I do like to create by my self, but I love sharing with other creators for feed back and I am always interested in others artistic views.Keeping an open mind can lead to so many other interesting options artistically!
      Well, these are just a few things that I have come to realize in my life. I don't think there is ever a time when all of the questions will be answered, otherwise we would not feel the need to strive for new ideas and reasons to create. Thank You for your very interesting, thought provoking blog. I look forward to your future listings!

      Delete
    3. Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts! I think we all struggle with the same things and ask ourselves the same questions, no matter how old we get...which is extremely comforting to me because sometimes I struggle with feeling totally alone in my struggles. The feedback I get from my writing is a constant reminder that I am not.

      Thanks for stopping by! <3

      Delete
  5. Wow!!! My 10 year high school reunion is coming up this summer and all of those thoughts go through my head!! I hope that one day I find a passion I can turn into a career as you have. Good luck and thank you for sharing :)
    Kim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Kim! I do feel very lucky to have found something I'm so passionate about. However, I do struggle with making it more lucrative.

      But it's okay. I'm young, I'm growing, and I'm learning. I never know where my path will lead. I just have to keep following it. :-)

      Delete
  6. You are ok, and you are a mess; and THAT is ok. Most importantly you are YOU.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for writing this post! I also followed the link from Tiny Buddha. I love to write, and I've often struggled with thoughts of insignificance about my stories and my writing capabilities, what impact the stories will have/not have on the world, etc. I think maybe the little things we do that are not capitalized in English really should be. A person could be a writer, but also Encourager, Perceiver of Beauty Around Them, Listener...maybe there are things about our very personalities that were meant to play a part in our "missions" in life. Thank you for listening to me rant, and thanks, too, to everyone that has shared here! <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing!

      And keep writing. A good friend once told me that choosing to do what you love is success within itself, regardless of your external success or whether or not you think you're any good.

      Delete
  8. I am fairly certain that you could go up to a man or woman whom you think "has it all," and ask them if they feel a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and identity, every single day in their life, and their response would be uncertain. Despite my known accomplishments overseas as a military photographer during peace keeping missions (I am in the Army and never deployed to Afghan) I have yet to still feel like I have accomplished anything. I have been in for over 7 years and the pressures and fondness of deploying to a warzone have always been an accomplished and superior point of view... That if I don't fight, I am not worthy. Interestingly enough, I re-enlisted 2 years ago, because I thought I had a chance of becoming that dream Soldier that everyone projects as a female "war hero," but I will never go. I knew from day 1, that I was never meant to be in the Army until retirement, but I desperately needed some drive and discipline. Now, despite having been to Haiti, and several Central and South American countries by land, air, and sea, distributing medicine,consults, and giving away tons of food and perishables to thousands of hungry and unhealthy grateful countries single-handed, I still find myself feeling unsettled about my accomplishments. I have captured moments of laughter, poverty, and heart-filled joy on a camera, and when I set it down I have always volunteered any time to teach English or carry food and do bbqs for towns that would have never had such an experience otherwise, and yet, I still feel like I've come up short. My point is (I know, finally) no one, despite their past, will ever be satisfied with who they are and what they do 100%, even if they know who they are. It is in all of us to be stronger, do better, find something more, and think that there's always room for improvement. I mean, I have lived a dream job right? Something creative in the government, traveling to tropical paradises, to adventure out and HELP everyone they can??? Isn't that a dream? It is, and I know this and am grateful for it and am good at it, but I know I am meant to do something else. Finding out who you are shouldn't always be so disappointing, it's finding out what you're going to do next with who you know you're good at being, that is scary. The day you feel like you've "done it all" or "have it all" is the day you should reward yourself and try something different the "next time."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, thank you so much for sharing this. That last bit really spoke to me.

      You have done some amazing things in your life so far, and you sound like you have a really good heart. I definitely tip my hat to you! <3

      Delete
  9. I can totally relate! First, I found your blog from your post on Tiny Buddha, which by the way was shared with me by a friend amongst a group of women who have felt a bit discouraged and stuck. Your post came through as a shot of inspiration, so thank you. When I read your bio I clicked on your blog and this post was as if I had written it myself! My husband, when he looks at the stack of books by my bed says, "It seems like your searching for something." Anyway, just a note to let you know you are not alone. And remember, if you do what you love, no matter how marginal you think of yourself at times, you will be rewarded.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Alex! I'm glad I was able to offer some inspiration to you and your friends.

      Delete
  10. Madison, Interesting post. I have to say that this defining of oneself by the job is a struggle I have dealt with several times. The first time I ran into it was as a first time stay-at-home parent where I had been defining ME by whatever was my job title at the time. Suddenly (or so it seemed) I was "just a mom" which meant (to my limited perception at the time) a loss of status. As my first born turned 2 I realized that I could define me as a teacher (albeit a small class of one) and mom and homemaker. Even if others (society) didn't value my "title" as important as say a doctor, I knew I was making a difference in the world for our small family. Then we added a 2nd child and I knew I'd be "just a mom" for more time with no paid job title. Now my oldest has left for college, my youngest is in high school and I'm again faced with the question of "who am I now?" So from my perspective, it's a life quest, constantly changing, a state of flux, you are whatever you want to be each and every day. Today I'm simply the driver, taking my girls to voice lessons and job interviews and a woman in search of a great hair cut and color. Tomorrow I'm a member of my church voting on the budget for next years good works. On Monday I'm the driver to daycare for my lovely niece and a yogi in search of my on personal peace. You are your own quest, a best friend, a student on a learning path. As you learn more, your world opens up bigger and more exciting and there is so much more. Good luck on your path.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "You are whatever you want to be each and every day."

      Wonderful thoughts! Thank you so much.

      Delete
  11. I spent my early 20's working as a librarian, but I rarely liked admitting that to people I met because I didn't associate who I was with what I did at all, so I guess we're at opposites there. I love books, and I love reading, but the actions I did while working as a librarian really had nothing to do with 'me'. I'm a dreamer and an animal lover, an explorer and a nature enthusiast. I'm a quiet friend and trusting soul. Because I haven't worked for more than a few months at a time at any job in particular these last few years, I don't associate a job title with myself anymore. While I do baking and cooking, I am not a baker, or a cook - even when I have had those jobs. I'm just someone who does those things - and enjoys them - but I'm still me without that too. I guess I'm lucky for it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Cel! You are very lucky indeed. :-)

      Delete
  12. I really enjoyed your "7 Things to Remember When You Think You're Not Good Enough". I have a genetic condition that causes chronic migraines and episodic spinal issues/pain (Spina Bifida). The daily migraines are the worse part because they're always with me whereas the back pain comes and goes. I have recently had to distance myself from my sister and niece after their accusations that "It's just a damn headache and you should have learned to tolerate them by now". Anyone with chronic migraine, no matter the cause of those migraines, knows it's not something you can "learn to tolerate". In spite of this, I find myself feeling guilty that I can't live up to her expectations and never will be able to. A relationship of 56 years is now over. So your post was very timely for me and as I move forward without my family, I've bookmarked the post so I can refer to it when I'm feeling particularly lonely. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm truly sorry to hear about everything you're going through. You are very brave for sharing your story, and I wish you all the best in the future.

      Much love,
      Madison

      Delete
  13. Bob.Player@gmail.comJanuary 27, 2014 at 4:54 PM

    Madison, My wife and I are retired NYC Public Schools teachers. Our daughters are 26 and 30. I've written in a journal that I've kept fairly steadily since I was eighteen. Writing is ot your identity. You are and will be so many more things in your life, and in the end, you control them, not the other way around. You may become a lover, a wife, a mother, and many other things over the course of your life. None of them dfine you. You define them, all of them, perhps some with greater emphasis at some points in your life than at others. I was an only child and a son. Now, I'm still an only child, but defining myself as son is much different now that my father has been deceased for forty years and my mother is almost 96. I'm her son, but my role is more like her parent.

    You say the following: "Guys, I'm having an identity crisis.

    I've been working through a book of exercises for 20-somethings for the past month, and I just finished reading a section about disentangling who you are from what you do. But I've noticed multiple times that when I take away my title as "writer," I literally have no idea who I am or why I matter to the world.

    Does anybody else struggle with this? Do you tie the entire meaning of your existence to what you do?

    Well, Madison, it was a struggle for me at 20 also, and I don't know if there are any short cuts. I only know what I've learned in my life. You are the sum of all you do, but that still doesn't define you, because you are also the sum of all that you have been to the people in your life over the span of your life. You don't need to disentangle yourself from it; just be at peace with it. Listen to those you deem wise and make your own calls based on how it seems to you. Some will be disappointed at your choices and say you've made wrong ones. You're the only one who can define them as right or wrong for you, and each day brings endless opportunities for new choices and new evaluations of those choices.

    In the end, you try to do what feels right and honest for yourself, because that way, you will be most likely to please yourself. In the end, the people who really love you should only be happy with those choices. If they're not, they need to examine themselves rather than be judging you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for this. Very helpful and very timely. :-)

      Delete
  14. Madison, I really like your writing. I found your blog through tiny Buddha and I feel like I really connect with you. Maybe we are going through some of the same struggles.

    Although cooking/blogging isn't my job, I do feel more validated when someone comments on my blog, or when someone makes one of my recipes and calls me to say they liked it. It's hard to not connect with these things because they aren't just what we "do;" we pour our souls into them. I don't know how you feel about writing, but cooking (and then writing about it) is really personal to me, and I strive to please others with it.

    Anyway, I'm going to binge read your blog now. Maybe we can be blogger friends :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "It's hard to not connect with these things because they aren't just what we 'do;'we pour our souls into them."

      This is so true and really explains why I feel so strongly about my identity as a writer. It gives me a sense of meaning and validation.

      And I would love to be blogger friends! Email me anytime. :-)

      Delete
  15. Madison,

    Have I mentioned before about becoming a cronista?

    We live in this wild amazing time when we can chronicle so much of our everyday life. When I was studying some long dead Chinese poets I realized that what they struggled with as humans then are the same things we struggle with now. Bottom line: Our worries and joys haven't really changed much over the last few thousand years. In a few thousand years, people like you are going to learn so much from you!

    Making a living as a writer now isn't glamorous or easy, and we are all hungry for what you have to say.

    Cheers,
    Jules

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jules! This is very kind and encouraging. :-)

      Delete
  16. Madison,

    I love your writing and it has touched my heart in may ways. I am grateful to have found your words on a day I just don't feel good enough. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete