When I sat down this week to start writing about graduates and graduation a lot of ideas popped into my head. I thought about writing something about the importance of always being a student, seeking to learn and grow from every person that you meet. Though an interesting idea, it didn't quite feel right.
Then I considered writing an open letter entitled "dear graduates," with advice and tips and tricks for navigating the world outside of the four walls of school. This idea felt better than the first but the words just didn't flow, a clear indication that I was on the wrong track.
All of that idea tossing and brain storming led me to what I'm writing about today, identity.
I don't know about you but all of my life I've been heavily defined by and tied to titles related to my education. For all of my K-12 years I was the home schooled kid and that was a badge that, once I stopped being ashamed of, I wore proudly. My post secondary track led me to a small all women's liberal art's school and for those four years I was the college student attending a strong all women's college. It was a time in my life that I was so proud of and shared with others quickly.
After finishing college I joined the global education program Up with People and for years it was the first thing I would share about myself when meeting new people. The fact that I got to travel the world performing, volunteering and living with host families made me feel like my life was such an adventure.
Then before I knew it, I wasn't connected to any of those things anymore. I was living in Denver, working in an office and staying in my host family's basement.
My life it seemed, had gone from unique to unique to all of a sudden strikingly average. My identity was so tied to my circumstances and how they made me stand out from a crowd that when my circumstances became seemingly normal I felt like I as well had gone from someone that was special to someone who just blended in with the crowd.
My first few weeks of living in Denver were harder than I imagined they would be. As I began to settle into a routine; wake up, work, workout, sleep, repeat, I also began to settle into a cycle of self doubt and lack of identity.
"Who am I if I'm not the world traveler?" I thought to myself one day as I boarded a plane from Denver to Pennsylvania to visit my family. Whenever I would come home to visit, my dad would always proudly introduce me to his friends as "his daughter, the world traveler," I was terrified at the thought of how boring his new introduction may potentially be.
That weekend when we went to church, I walked into the building with my parents and immediately from across the room one of their friends, with a huge smile on their face, came bounding in our direction. They greeted my parents warmly and then turned my way and said "Is this the daughter that you've been telling us about?" and then wrapped me in a warm bear hug. As I stood there, hugging a stranger I was taken aback by the reality of my identity.
To my parents, regardless of where I was studying, living or traveling I was always first and foremost their daughter.
It's so easy for us to tie our identity and our worth to the things that we do and the circles that we run in. Do you find yourself doing that? Introducing yourself and first mentioning where you work as if our jobs are able to give people an all encompassing snapshot of who we really are. As if the fact that you're loving, kind and compassionate are secondary to the fact that you work for a non-profit or a large corporation.
Ted Dekker once said "Life consists of cycles of remembering and forgetting and I, like you, still forget far too often...and in that forgetting, my view is clouded once more until I remember who I am and surrender who I am not."
That day, at church with my parents, I was reminded of who I am. I began to tie my identity to the factors that will always remain and not to the circumstances that are constantly ebbing and flowing through my life. I began to stop looking to my job, my friends and my situation to tell me who I am and started to embrace the truth of who God says that I am.
I willingly began to surrender who I am not and with a peaceful heart rested in the truth of who I am.