Establishing an identity
a look into the relationship between identity and individuality
Forming an identity is complex, time-consuming, and something that feels never-ending. Your identity is the combination of each distinct piece of you, whether that be the town you were raised in, your relationships with friends and not friends, or the hobbies and habits you indulge in.
I consider identity as the way I present myself to others - my external identity, with a focus on individuality, and how I’m differentiated from others.
The way someone sees me may be completely different from the image I set to establish, but this post focuses less on the former and how I feel I’ve shaped my identity through finding ways to pursue individuality over the past few months.
So, the inspiration for this article:
It has been almost 10 years since I graduated from elementary school and I rekindled friendships with these friends this past summer. As we sat in the park by our childhood school and moved in a circle talking about what we had been up to in the years since I couldn’t help but think about how different we all were now. Different career paths, schools, friends - people that were a constant in my life for so many years, I could not be more different from. Naturally, our interests diverged to a point where the only part of our identity that we shared was our childhood interests. I felt a sense of individuality for the first time in a while when I was with that group.
The time of your life when you’re surrounded by people with the most diverse interests is when you’re younger and as you grow older, your social circle becomes smaller and consists of people who have similar interests to you. Your friends become less dependent on convenience and require more intentionality, so naturally, your core group would be those with similar interests. Those who share a similar identity to you and the natural response to this change is a loss of individuality.
As we got older and entered high school then university, I found that all our interests and career aspirations converged into one. We joined the same clubs, participated in the same extracurriculars, and while it allowed me to form close relationships through bonding over our similarities - I lost that sense of independence I once had. University was a similar experience, if not further narrowed. Everyone wanted the same jobs, to be a part of the same clubs, or move to the same cities (you’re probably team NYC or SF, Seattle if you’re feeling adventurous). We were identified as a group, sometimes merely as extensions of one another. I felt that loss of individuality I once had, and sought out some way to differentiate myself, a hobby or interest I could pursue that was only for me.
When I was thirteen, I began to ice skate - nothing fancy, I went forwards and backward at best. As time went on, I continued to learn and invest time in the sport, and learned to figure skate.
I believe that there’s beauty in wanting to share, whether that is introducing friends to other friends, Instagram photo dumps, or as we see here, even writing. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting something exclusively for myself. Skating gave me that.
The sport has a high barrier to entry in contrast to my other interests like drawing or reading, which, have minimal friction to partake in. It requires hours of practice each week, coaching, and takes years to learn. It wasn’t something you could do for a 4-month stint as we often do with clubs or internships at my school. Few friends were interested in partaking and I realized how much I enjoyed my independence. The result of my investment in the sport was that I finally found that sense of individuality I was searching for.
Balancing our course load and training, I would skate three times a week working with a coach to help me progress and learn new tricks on the ice. There was no one else from my university that skated at this rink and only one other university student from a neighboring school. The club was a place I was known purely for the way I moved across the ice (unfortunately sometimes not so gracefully). There was little interest in what I did for work, and what I was studying, and I found so much enjoyment in pursuing that on my own. Investing time and energy in this sport this past summer helped me finally establish an identity outside of my school and work.
This feeling of individuality and the pursuit of my interests independently left me:
stronger in my convictions recognizing that each decision I make is an amalgamation of my unique learnings
more intentional with the way I spend my time and the people I spend it with, actively focusing time for pursuing interests that are purely for my personal growth and learnings
a clear understanding of self and how this concept of my internal identity (and external identity) is ever changing
I may continue to write and post publicly, subscribe if you’re curious!
With that, I urge you to also continue to explore and learn without relying on another for accompaniment. Do things you’re interested in when you want to as much as you want to without the pressure of accommodating another. I’d love to see the growth it brings you and the way it informs your understanding of your own identity.
(Do keep in mind that it is important to continue to share the things you love with the people you love - this post is merely to prompt you to consider a balance and recognize that holding some things closely to yourself is equally as important)