Identity Issues

A lot of people have identity issues. They let their identity be defined by something outside themselves. I did this for a long time. As a child I found my identity in my family. The identity we shared in Austin dissolved with the adoption of Russian kids and a move to Colorado. In youth I was taught to find my identity in Christ. So I studied the Bible, attempted to learn fully who God and Jesus were, and what that made me. I thought I had it, and then I would attempt to join Christian communities, and I didn’t fit. These people weren’t searching the same way I was, weren’t implementing the lessons I learned from the Bible – living life kindly, generously, intelligently as it seemed to instruct. They weren’t any different from the secular youth who had mocked my prudish intellect in middle school. So I became disillusioned with religion, unsure of how I could find my identity in an environment that seemed so lacking.

I continued to search for my identity in various places. I’d always been taught to find it outside myself, and the importance of finding it had been utmost. I went to an HBCU straight out of high school, drawn to black culture by the confidence of the women and the strong identity they all seemed to possess. I learned how they carried themselves and why from extensive conversations, pledging a co-ed business fraternity, and a year and a half of coursework. But I couldn’t change my skin color, and on some level I still felt confused about who I was.

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Shoutout to Iota Rho, Vengeance Spring 2013. These are my line brothers. I love them like family.

 

A year later I backpacked around Europe, drawn to the height of the culture, the intelligence and good taste that seemed to permeate every European’s being. Maybe I’d find myself there. I found beautiful architecture, live history lessons, fleeting friendships with fellow wanderers, and, in all this, pieces of myself. People guessed I was Spanish or German, but, while much of my ancestry is Irish and Ashkenazi/Sephardic Jewish, I am not European.

The most pivotal discovery I made in Europe was that I am a writer. Finding this piece of my identity, journaling in city squares and sprawling parks, gave me the means to explore myself more fully. Through journaling, I’ve made infinite personal breakthroughs, writing my way to self-actualization. I took my newfound talents to Colorado State University, where I decided that earning a college degree in English would be the most beneficial next step.

While reading novels and writing essays as academic work, for an extracurricular activity I fell in love. It was cinematic in all the ways I’d imagined, but the most important lesson I learned from the connection and subsequent dissolution was to see myself as a cohesive person. He was the first person to know absolutely everything about me, to see me completely and wholly and, with all that, to love me. In our codependent relationship, I came to see myself through his eyes. While this was damaging, and took some work to undo, it was insanely helpful to be able to see myself as a whole being, and it took using someone else’s view to accomplish this.

Coming out of the relationship, I used this idea of myself as a whole, separated from him, and have come to a new place of completeness. I’ve taken off his lenses and spent the last several months figuring out my own vision. Now that’s established – I can see myself clearly, honestly, and beautifully – I am able to be. I’ve learned to pay closer attention to how I feel than to how I look – something only I can do. And now, even in making fresh connections, I’m able to maintain my identity – with conscious effort, of course. And, I’m also noticing that since I have this new sense of self, other people are able to see me more accurately than ever before. I heard a line in a movie once – I don’t remember which – “People like people who like themselves.” I could talk about self-love all day, but this line stuck. And finding this sense of cohesion, this sense of knowing myself has made self-love more possible than ever before. And, in practice, I’m finding that line to be wonderfully true.

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Finding Beauty

I’ve always loved a good view. Standing on top of a mountain, surfing in a tropical inlet, swimming in the ocean under a full moon and a sky full of stars. These are holy moments of awe, silence, oneness with nature, when all I can do is let the clean air fill my lungs as I stare. Speechless. As Ron Burgundy said about the view of San Diego, “Drink it in. It always goes down smooth.” I’ve never been to San Diego, but I can say these words ring true wherever I go.

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A moment in Costa Rica just a few weeks ago. This vista came at the top of a long staircase winding through the rainforest.

Beauty takes my breath away. Unfortunately, I can’t always be hiking mountains or lounging on beaches. Right now I’m finishing university in a place that is too small to be considered a city. While it’s wonderfully close to the mountains and makes me feel like I live in a doll house, the environment is stagnant – a little less than inspiring, especially when fresh snow is hiding spring.

But I still find ways to get my breath taken away. The key is looking for them. It’s harder in everyday life, when I’ve procrastinated writing an essay or skipped a shower. But it’s absolutely possible. A grand view is exponentiated beauty, but beauty can come in smaller forms, too.

I see it in my blender each morning as bananas, oranges, and spinach swirl together. I see it in the way the wind was blowing as the snow fell, so all the trees were covered perfectly on one side. I see it in fluid lines of architecture, or the ivy that covers my house gradually coming back to life. I can always see it in the sky, although these vast expanses of gray are presenting a challenge. I hear it in Florence and the Machine playing through my headphones and in the roar of cars speeding along wet asphalt. Beauty is everywhere.

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Ireland, 2014, I realized my sunglasses actually had a rosy tint.

It’s a mindset, a lens through which I see the world, like wearing rose colored glasses. But it’s not foolish naiveté – it’s childlike awe in the soul of an adult. It’s choosing to see things simply, beautifully, sweetly, training your eyes to dance around mud puddles instead of boring through them. Try it.

Try finding beauty in everything, even something you instinctively think is hideous. I don’t love the worn carpeting of my bedroom floor, but the texture has interesting dimension, and the blend of purple and green is a little enchanting. It takes a sense of humor and a creative eye – things that anyone can cultivate, but it makes a world of difference.

Stay beautiful –

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