Being not quite something

The definition of identity, according to Google:

The fact of being who or what a person or thing is.

Good and vague. That is:

The characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is.

Better.

We know the concept of identity, but how many of us would actually find it difficult to describe our own? We would probably state our name, age, what we do and where we come from (and now I want to start singing in my head), but who we are is far more than that.

Nevertheless, the first way in which we would usually identify ourselves is our name. I am Lauren. Not Laura, although I get called it at least once a week. I’m perfectly used to responding to a name that isn’t my own, and I have sometimes wondered if being not quite something affects who we are. Of course, the interesting thing about your name being one of the quickest ways to identify yourself is that most of us don’t choose it.

As this article states, our name and the lives that unravel once it has been picked are really more an indication of the influence of our parents, but it is fascinating to what extent this can affect us: ‘An Eleanor is 100 times more likely to go to Oxford than a Jade.’ Our parents’ influence is interesting, but so is the influence of others: even if we have not chosen our name, we might be judged by it. And, as the article points out, this can have an effect on us – what psychologists call the ‘looking-glass self’.

I am Lauren. I am also a daughter, sister, the older sibling, a friend, girlfriend, housemate, employee, assistant, commuter, reader, blogger, a Scot, resident of London. And those are just the nouns! I am also a former languages student, which shapes my perspective – we can’t forget about the ‘former’s! At some point or another I have also been a student, teacher, Girl Guide, dancer, musician, writer, editor, job-hunter. I am a product of my past.

I am also a product of those around me. I am all of these and some of these, depending on the company in which I find myself. Many of us are different people with different people. (Of course, that could just be a Gemini thing, if you put stock in the idea that the position of planets at the time of our birth has an effect on our personality.)

And, with different company or with time, how you define yourself changes. I thought I was clever in high school, then got to university and discovered the sheer mundanity of my mind. I used to consider myself a writer, but I have produced nothing creative in a year. I strongly believed gyms were a complete waste of time and money until a year ago; now, it turns out I’m not the last person on the planet who would join one. And last but not least, a year ago I was the one person I knew who didn’t like pizza, and yet I’ve had Domino’s twice in the past two weeks. (Oops.)

The last two are somewhat trivial changes, but so much has changed since moving to London. A couple of years ago, I was the one in my friend group struggling for the career I wanted. When we went out for dinner, all I had to contribute was my (lack of) progress in the hunt for a publishing job. That, and my dating stories – I was the perennial singleton. It’s slightly disconcerting (but welcome), that all of this has changed so quickly. I have a job I love and an amazing guy. (The word ‘boyfriend’ still feels foreign when I say or write it.)

Moving away from home is an action that shapes our identities – or mine at least. I have lived in France, Spain and now England, and I only have to start speaking in certain situations to be reminded of my nationality. The expression people get as they first adjust to the accent reminds me I’m not in Kansas Edinburgh anymore, but to be fair it happens less in London; it’s so international. In an office of twelve, we have seven nationalities, so perhaps there are a lot of us who sometimes feel a bit displaced. Our differences play a part in defining us: we loved when our Polish colleague introduced us to Fat Thursday – doughnuts, anyone? – and I brought in shortbread for Burn’s Day. In this case, living away from home has developed my nationality into a more significant part of my identity.

It does pose a problem though: I went to Dublin recently, and at the Guinness Storehouse someone asked where we were from. I couldn’t decide if I should still be saying Scotland, or if I will have to start saying London, as both are true. One is where I’m from; the other is where I’m visiting from.

Sometimes we define ourselves by what makes us different to those around us; sometimes we define ourselves by what makes us the same. I hear another Scottish accent outside of Scotland and feel warm towards the person, knowing precisely nothing about them. Collective identity could have a whole post of its own.

This has become a rather long and rambling post, which is quite possibly an accurate representation of part of my identity. I didn’t even touch on how our clothes and appearance are related to identity, although in many situations it will be your first impression of a person; someone else can examine that!

I’ve concluded that many aspects of myself that I thought were immutable have already changed. Therefore, I would like to finish by establishing some things that I do know about myself – even if they are only true for now:

I am all of the things listed before.

I am a chocoholic, F1 fan and listener of pop and country music.

I like the things I like a lot.

I am a person who loves parentheses and dashes, as if you couldn’t tell that already.

I’m not a people-pleaser, but I will always treat other people kindly unless they are incredibly rude to me first.

I am an assistant. It has almost always been in my job titles, and when it changes it will be a significant one.

I am a goal-setter.

I am judged as positive by some friends and pessimistic by others. Perhaps I’m a realist.

I will always choose to write with blue pen if possible.

I am… going to stop talking now, you will be pleased to know.

 

Thank you for reading.

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4 thoughts on “Being not quite something

  1. I LOVE this! When I was younger, I used to define myself by usually just one thing: an athlete, a straight A student, a best friend. I had a hard time realizing that a) I was more than just those things and b) I was all of those thing and more. When I got hurt and couldn’t finish out my track season, I felt I had lost a part of who I was; my identity was gone. It took my a while to see that who I was, who I am, wasn’t wrapped up in this thing or that. That was was more than a name, a size, a runner, or a grade. I think you hit o something that everyone should be reminded of. Beautiful post, hon!

    • I think this happens a lot, and perhaps particularly with people who did sport in school. It is a massive adjustment to have something so important and familiar taken away. It does become part of you, but as you say it isn’t ‘you’. I think something similar happens for those of us who go to uni and leave education after seventeen years, wondering who on earth we are if we’re no longer students. That was definitely the time that I questioned my identity most, but it is something I’ve been mulling over again recently. I still don’t have the answers, hence the long post, but that’s OK. Thank you for the lovely comment!

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