Forging Identity

“When a defining moment comes along, you define the moment, or the moment defines you.”

~ KEVIN COSTNER

Many people have a defining moment. Some have multiple. Whether for better or for worse, this moment separates who you were from who you are. In a single second, a fault line cracks, and a chasm appears. There is before, and there is after. 

“There is before, and there is after.”

The birth of a child, the loss of a loved one, a proposal, an injury, a diagnosis – these are all defining moments. While they all come with an evolving persona, defining moments of dis-ease can be the most hard to rebound from. You are left bare and wide open, vulnerable and so very lost. For me, a concussion that never healed, a second head injury that compounded the problem, and a trip to the ER. Once the initial shock of such a moment has worn off, there is just you. But who are you anymore?

When your life changes, your identity changes. Some things are lost, some shifted, some paused, and some are gained. But who you are now doesn’t just appear. The things lost or paused leave gaping holes in your heart. You don’t feel like yourself. You don’t really know who “yourself” is. This isn’t me. I find myself saying this in the lowest moments. But this won’t be you forever. You will grow and become and keep adding to who you want to be until you have spun a web that will hold you safe inside. 

“You will grow and become until you have spun a web that will hold you safe inside.”

We are a sum of everything that is meaningful to us. When we are forced to let go of some of those things, even temporarily, it can be crushing. Under most circumstances, you can’t just immediately be okay with the losses and no longer claim them as a part of you. Grieving the loss is part of healing. 

No, a new identity doesn’t just appear. It must be crafted. You must place yourself in the fire, feel all of your feelings, and forge new pieces of yourself. You must drive the hammer and fight through the messy parts until you are ready to quench the blade and reveal a masterpiece. 

A defining moment is an opportunity. An opportunity to dive into yourself and decide what parts of your identity serve you and what do not. It is an opportunity to choose who you want to be. 

Carve away the parts of yourself that do not elevate you. I am working to chisel down the perfectionism, the codependency, the overachieving in my life. Like a sculptor to clay, let it fall away. Center yourself like a potter on a wheel. And fill your heart with new things. 

“Like a sculptor to clay, let it fall away.”

If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be this. Learn a new skill. Always watched from the sidelines but wanted to try? Go for it! That old hobby that you never had time for until now? Start it up again! As long as you are not putting your health in jeopardy and it is within your power, the sky’s the limit. Any time someone learns a new skill that they are passionate about, they add to their identity. So when you feel lost and don’t know who you are anymore, learning something new can be incredibly grounding. 

Since getting sick, I started drawing more. I’ve always loved drawing, but didn’t do it very often. I’ve started writing more too, hence this blog. I’m learning how to surf. It drains my body, but it feeds my soul. 

“It drains my body, but it feeds my soul.”

When I feel the most lost and my heart aches for that which is out of my reach right now, any one of these things is a powerful outlet for me. I finally have the time to learn what I really want in life. It is hard and it is painful, but it is worth it. 

It is healthy to grieve the loss of your old self. The losses you grieve the most – they will always be a part of you. Just because a soccer player retires, that doesn’t mean they are no longer a soccer player. Just because a hiker moves to the flatlands, that doesn’t mean they are no longer a hiker. What matters is what you hold in your heart. You are the blacksmith of your own life. Let the process happen. Honor your feelings. Know that while you can’t go back to who you were in the “before,” who you are now is incredible and worthy and beautifully whole.

“You are the blacksmith of your own life.”

Dear Future Self,

Hey there. Remember me? It’s the beginning of a new year. You moved to California a few short months ago, and are learning the ins and outs of how beautifully cruel the world can be. You reapplied to college recently. I’m not too attached to where you end up this time around. I hope you’re proud of your choice. I believe it will all work out the way it is meant to.

When it feels like the walls are closing in around me, I think of you. I think of all of the incredible things I know you are out there doing. You inspire me each and every day to keep pushing forward.

I know you have grown, but I hope you didn’t lose sight of who you are. I hope you made the choices you wanted instead of the ones that were expected of you. I hope the only person you are obsessed with pleasing is yourself. I hope you defied cultural standards and carved your own path. I hope you never let anyone tell you how to feel. I hope you let yourself feel — deeply and fully. I hope you trust yourself and your ability to make the most informed decisions. I hope that in the dark moments you remember your strengths, and in the light you celebrate them.

“I hope that in the dark moments you remember your strengths, and in the light you celebrate them. “

Photograph of the author looking over over a sweeping view of the Western Connecticut foothills, celebrating her strength.

You have already come so far, and I can’t wait to see how far you go. You are my role model. While I believe no one can truly figure life out, I imagine that you are more confident in yourself and your choices. I picture you at ease in the world, at ease in your own skin, at ease with your thoughts. I dream of you smiling easily and laughing often and traveling the world.

I hope you adventure. I hope you meet like-minded people. I hope you are challenged by people with differing perspectives. I hope you surround yourself with people that lift you up. I hope you slow down and watch the sunset. I hope you wake up to be blessed by the sunrise. I hope you climb mountains. I hope you surf often. I hope you continue to push yourself. I hope you’ve been to Europe. I hope you try new and exciting things. I hope your days are filled with childlike wonder at the daily miracles of the world.

Photograph of the author looking up at a massive redwood in Northern California, filled with childlike wonder at the daily miracles of the world.

“I hope your days are filled with childlike wonder at the daily miracles of the world.”

There are so many things that I want you to have done and be doing and dream of doing, but I trust that you will grow and adapt and make the best decisions for yourself. I know that may mean that your dreams change, and I want you to know that I’m okay with that. As long as you are following your heart and chasing your joy, the possibilities are endless, and the dreams are limitless.

I hope you’ve grown, but I hope you remember me. I hope you explore your passions and chase what you love. I hope you learn something new every day. I hope you hold compassion in your heart for everyone you meet. I hope you give yourself grace. I hope you are proud of how far you’ve come. I hope you are open and loving and brilliant and glowing. I hope you cry and I hope you laugh, both with abandon. I hope you feel alive. I hope you let your experiences fuel you, but not define you.

“I hope you let your experiences fuel you, but not define you.”

Photograph from below of the author jumping off a graffitied cliff into a lake in Northern Maine.

I hope you are out there, doing what you love, making the most of every moment. And I hope you find peace along the way. I hope you made your dreams a reality. But most of all, more than anything else, I hope you are unapologetically yourself. 

With endless love from your biggest supporter,

You.

“Keep your heart open to dreams. For as long as there’s a dream, there is hope, and as long as there is hope, there is joy in living.”

~ Anonymous