Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I’m a writer and a maker. More specifically, I create content for my two sites, contribute here on Medium, as well as create physical and digital products for my Etsy shop.
Like most people, I find it difficult to separate who I am from what I do. My work is my passion. I’m captivated with not just the results, but the work itself.
It pushes me, challenges me, and makes me who I am. Or does it?
A Question of Worth
As a culture, we tend to define ourselves, and each other, by our careers and interests. When we first meet someone, “what do you do?” is the usual go-to question. When we run into someone we haven’t seen in a while, it’s natural to ask about the person’s career or other notable pursuits.
This isn’t necessarily wrong. Our work and interests are an integral part of our individuality. The problem is when we feel solely defined by these external factors.
Identity is a delicate, yet complex, concept. Our identity is the story we tell about who we are. It’s the prevailing characterization of our lives and our personalities. Our identity answers the question, “who am I?”
The problem, though is this: if I define myself by what I do, my inherent worth increases or decreases based upon my success. When I succeed, I am a success. When I fail, I am a failure.
If I identify myself as a writer, who am I when my writing misses some standard of success? If I define myself as a blogger, who do I become when I decide I no longer want that title?
Furthermore, because our identities are the core of who we are, those things we define ourselves by can begin to feel fixed. It’s easy to forget that who we are is fluid and flexible.
I don’t have to be blogger if that hat no longer suits me. You don’t have to continue doing your thing, whatever it may be, when you feel ready to move on.
We are not defined by what we do.
We Contain Multitudes
In Song of Myself, American poet Walt Whitman says it best with these lines:
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
Whitman admits that he is contradictory, as we all are. Within our individual personalities there are “multitudes” of contrary feelings, personality traits and habits, and this is okay.
He embraces all parts of his humanity- the messy, contradictory and flawed. We should do the same, as this is what makes us human.
I enjoy being social, but I’m an introvert. Some days I enjoy writing and can’t get the words out fast enough, other days, the page sits empty. I’m complicated yet simple, open yet private, playful yet serious. I imagine most of you are all of these things, too.
And in the same vein, we are so much more than what we do. Whether you identify as a dancer, an artist, a writer, whether you define yourself by your career, your passions, or your hobbies, you contain multitudes.
You can love what you do and be impassioned by it, you can be proud of your achievements and hungry for more, but the bottom line is this: it is not who you are.
The Dance of Letting Go
Ultimately, it would benefit us to take a page from Whitman’s book.
Our identities are not set in stone. They’re variable and dynamic, and they certainly don’t need to be weighed down by your career or passion, no matter how successful you are at it.
You have the power to change, evolve and re-create who you are at a moment’s notice.
You’re free to take off the mask of whatever it is you do, and to move forward in becoming who you want to be.