Identity. It's a funny thing. A thing I've been thinking a lot about over the past six months, as my experiences with food and body falls further and further down on the list of things that defines my captial-m "Me," as my freelance career settles into step while simultaneously asking an endless stream of questions and challenges with every meeting and client. I’ve pondered my identity as old relationships appear less likely to be revived and new ones bloom and nourish my being, however I define it.
Just today, I thought about identity again as I carried my 16oz dark roast with a splash of almond milk and pump of sugar-free vanilla —in case anyone every wants to buy me a coffee...—into the rain and toward my freshly washed Mazda. I had gone into the coffee shop, a client of mine, before 7:30am as I had at least four days a week —or more— for at least the last year to check on the morning bakery menu, snap a few photos, and get my coffee. The barista, a friend, working the espresso machine made a passing joke about my outfit.
"Jeans..?" he said. "I think this is the first time I've seen you wear jeans in the year plus I've known you. Who are you?"
"What? Really?" I asked, laughing. "You've never been working when I come in the afternoons?"
"Apparently not," he said. And we both laughed. "What's afternoon Abby doing out so early today?"
Afternoon Abby, a piece of me he didn't know. He doesn't know Afternoon Abby just like he doesn't know Friday Night Abby, or Wednesday Night Abby. He doesn't know Silly Sunday Morning Abby or Tired Tuesday Abby or Emotionally Exhausted Abby or Open-Hearted Nature Abby or Aunt Abby, as I'm called by a special few.
To him, the me that exists is the tousled-hair, makeup-less photographer and social media managing Abby that comes to a coffee shop at 7:00am after a morning workout wearing her workout leggings. Despite all the time and energy I put into the capital-m "Me," that exists beyond the walls of that coffee shop, this is who I am to him.
I could show him, if I wanted to. I could tell him about the other "Me's," I could start packing other clothes into my workout bag, just to prove that I do, in fact, wear lots of other styles of pants—and dresses and skirts and pantsuits, even—but it wouldn't change much. I can't control his perceptions of Me any more than I have the energy to show him all of it. Instead, I can keep carrying my coffee into my car, drive home, walk the dogs, eat breakfast, and continue my life as Me.
The thing about identity is we can't escape it any more than we can really define it. The tighter we tie ourselves to any one idea of what out identity is, the harder that thing is to control. Who we are changes, whether we're comfortable with that or not. As a glutton for a good existential crisis, I can tell you that I still find myself sitting in the front seat of my car with the radio on asking some the same questions at 25 as I did while sitting in the passenger seat of my boyfriend's car at 15—it's just that the answers (or non-answers)—that have changed.
Who we "are," is a messy question with an even messier answer. It's about values, and morals, and history, and hopes, and goals. It's about who we've been and who we think we might become, but it's also fluid and transient. Your history and hopes and goals are moment-specific, as am I.
Holding on to one thing as the sole determinant of who you are will not only exhaust you, but leave you without yourself the moment that "thing" proves to be less reliable than you thought. When the relationship ends, when it's time for a career change, when your hobby stops holding your interest... what then?
What happens when you no longer feel yourself in yoga class? Who are you when you career stops giving you what you need?
I don't know for sure, since I can't tell without looking at my blog analytics if I actually know you, but I can tell you what I told myself today: you're still you. You're just a little different now.