It’s that time of the year again where we tend to spend a bit more time reflecting on the things we have done. Achievements, failures and general questions about whether we have accomplished the goals that we set out for ourselves.
Am I a step closer to the person that I want to become?
Through this line of questioning, doubts often stem about who we are and how we fit into the world around us.
We often think of our own identities as stories. We picture ourselves as a character at the center of a novel or film with past experiences, character traits, goals and aspirations. It’s not just because we desire this for ourselves on an individual level but because our social interactions often demand this. In our social interactions, we continuously fall back on self-identification through storytelling.
In other words, when people want to know us they generally want to know our story and vice versa. What do they do for a living? What brought them there? What are their values and their dreams?
What is my Identity? It's a question that we all seek to answer in our own ways throughout our lives. Each episode of Identity spotlights a different creative, some from the Tamil community and some from outside it, who will be chatting about how we take ownership of our narratives, art, politics and of course who we are. We hope to inspire you through their unique stories of seeking and finding Identity. Catch Season 1 below!
- Shakthi / Theatre, Intergenerational Trauma and Australian Tamil Identity
- Identity Podcast: Anuk/ Language, Grief and Tamil Community
- Maral/ Art, Belonging & Armenian-Iraqi-Canadian Identity
- Shuba/ Music, Feminism and Dual Identities
A film with a coherent story is generally a more pleasing viewing experience. Likewise, without sounding flippant, we feel more at ‘ease’ when someone offers a coherent story about themselves and when we can offer one in return. A coherent story suggests an authentic identity. It hints that you know yourself well enough for others to get to know you and feel comfortable in your presence.
Therefore, often when we struggle with defining our identity, this has an impact on our social lives. If you are unable to provide a coherent story and are vague about who you are, people will often find it difficult to connect with you and this will in turn, sometimes worsen your self-doubt and prompt you to become more reclusive.
I want to explore the various ways we can experience an identity crisis and hopefully by the end, propose how we might deal with this struggle.
We are now more capable of reliving the past than we have ever been. A quick browse through Netflix gives us access to the shows we used to watch. Sites such as Amazon and eBay allow us to purchase objects/clothes, not only from our past, but that of our parents (under the guise of ‘retro’). Similarly, the friends that we thought we had lost are now easily located via social media. Revisiting the past can provide a sense of comfort that life is still as carefree and idealistic as you once imagined it was.
That said, this sentimental yearning for the past, otherwise known as nostalgia, is equally easy to get lost in. When we revisit our past to avoid the present, we’re not forming new experiences or making new memories. Hence, It can also end up making you feel more lonely. It’s too easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses and feel disappointed with your present situation.
In reality, from a very early age, many of us learn how to mask our authentic selves. We use social masks so habitually that sometimes we don’t even notice it. These masks can range from the way you speak, dress and carry yourself. Regardless, the intention is to keep a part of your identity hidden.
This is formally known as ‘code-switching’, and although it is usually used to describe the way in which bilingual people engage with language, its definition has widened to include bending our personalities to accommodate certain situations more generally. Whether it’s a date, a job interview or hanging around with friends, it’s something we all do.
For instance, in a work environment, it makes sense that you would wear a ‘professional persona’. The problem comes when society forces us to switch personas against our will or adopt personas that we’re uncomfortable with.
For people of colour, the process of code-switching can constantly challenge our perception of identity and culture, making us question who we really are. After a certain point, it can become draining to constantly pretend to be, or feel like you need to be someone else.
From the moment we wake up in the morning, we are bombarded with a series of choices and decisions to make. Some are imposed on us by society and some by our current life circumstances. This has always been the case. However, unlike previous generations, we are now dealing with an overabundance of choice created by the internet.
The internet has created a vast number of alternative universes that our stories could be told in. Every second on earth, there are around 8 billion people experiencing the world in a unique way. Through the internet, we can share in these moments and so we are subjected to seemingly infinite possibilities.
A single TikTok/Youtube Shorts binge is enough to showcase this. You can experience a multitude of emotions, concepts and world thoughts in the space of an hour, whilst also feeling displaced.
How can our life compete with the total experiences of 8 billion people?
The overwhelming amount of freedom and possible ways to give shape to our identity, results in decision paralysis. It creates a sense of restlessness whereby you are left unable to make a choice. Every decision comes with a ‘what if ?’ and every choice can be unchosen. Every town, job or partner can be left for another.
How to deal with an identity crisis
It is important to remember that dealing with an identity crisis is a fundamental aspect of what makes us human. It has existed across many generations and will never be solved,by anyone, in its entirety. Therefore, it's more prudent that we change our attitude towards these scenarios.
The appeal of the past doesn’t stem from society collapsing at a certain point in time, but from our desire to romanticize a portion of our lives that to some extent, never truly existed in reality. Similarly, there will only ever be a handful of people to whom we can show our complete and authentic selves. It’s not about getting rid of social masks completely, we need them, they’re a survival mechanism. It’s recognising where you’re wearing one, what the cost is and maybe realising when there’s more power in taking it off.
Finally, given the seemingly infinite possible paths that our lives could take, it may be best to shift our focus away from the decisions and identities that we could take on and instead give greater importance to our present choices and current sense of self.
"Each of these lives is the right one! Every path is the right path. Everything could have been anything else and it would have just as much meaning."
- Mr. Nobody
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