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?
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?