I am a…

Conall is eighteen-months-old today.  Which means it’s been eighteen months since the start of my identity crisis.  I never saw myself becoming a parent.  Heck, I never really saw myself becoming an adult.  Left to my own devices, I’d be eating broccoli in tomato sauce and tuna mixed with canned corn every night; I can hardly feed myself, how can I be responsible for the life of another human being?

Well, actually, it isn’t so much the responsibility with which I struggle, as it is the very idea of being a mom.  Being a “mom” means doing all those things that never interested me – carpools, play dates, coffee mornings.  I have a panic attack at the very notion of having to carry on conversations with a group of women with whom the only thing I have in common is an offspring.  When I think of standing outside the elementary school waiting to pick up my son, I have images of myself as a Japanese snow monkey chased out of the hot spring by one of the cooler snow monkey moms.

I struggle to define myself as a mom, but what else am I?  I’ve tried working in all kinds of fields and not really found my place.  I am a writer, but then, I’ve not yet gotten that stamp of approval that makes me feel I can legitimately define myself that way.  And this begs the question: ought I to be defining myself at all?


Yesterday, I read a quote by Deepak Chopra: “Your only identity is I AM undefined and infinite.  Any label you give yourself limits yourself.”   Hmmm… that’s a head scratcher.  I’ve always been under the impression that defining one’s identity is part of the human endeavor… part of understanding who one is.  But, if the past year and a half have taught me nothing else, I’ve learned that trying to define myself by my relationship to another or by what I do, in fact does feel limiting.  It doesn’t capture the wholeness of who I am.  And, as I haven’t yet achieved some of the things I’d like to, it can feel discomfiting.

It’s a challenge, though, isn’t it?  We need a bit of an “elevator speech” to provide others an idea of who we are.  “I am a … (fill in the profession)” and “I am (fill in: single, a single parent, a wife, a husband, a father, a mother, an only child, the 3’rd of four, etc.)” and also, “I like (fill in the hobby).”  We use these quick and easy definitions to help find points of commonality with others, or to frame an interaction between people.  Like the snow monkeys, there is a way things are done and we all understand the common rules.

But, do these labels stifle our creative instincts?  Do they cause us to stop exploring new ways we could express ourselves in the world?

Often, many of us become so comfortable with the notion that we are our jobs or our relationships or our interests, that we stop wondering what else we could be.  And then, if we are faced with divorce, or the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, we must struggle through, not only the loss, but the lack of that identity.  We can feel set adrift on a metaphysical sea.


The best case scenario is that we reestablish ourselves in some better way – find a new talent, a new comfort with who we are, a new relationship with another person, or with the world in general.  For example, Dr. Sean Kenniff made a name for himself on the first season of Survivor.  After the show, he broadened his career to become a journalist, covering health issues.  When his job was cut, due to the recession, he felt lost and powerless.  Drawing on these emotions, he was inspired to write an amazing novel about pushing limits and challenging destiny, called Etre the Cow.  But should it take a blow to our vitals to open our eyes and see all the possibilities the world offers to us?

Perhaps Chopra is right… the less we try to define ourselves, the more open we can be to all we can be.  And if we must, for the sake of conversation, label ourselves, at least we should stop and rethink those labels every so often… make sure they are what we want them to be.   And perhaps, we should take the time, now and then, to imagine what else is out there for us.  Life is opportunity.  We are not Kenniff’s poor cow starving in a pasture for a better existence.  We are … anything.

“Your only identity is I Am…”  


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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great post

  2. To be or not to be – is that the question?

  3. Facinating how you are able to put so much in so few words, Meghan! You got it right, you are all those things. I, too, remember standing outside of my daughters grade school class, waiting with the other mom’s. My thoughts were, I’m not one of these women, I’m divorced raising her on my own with very little. Over there is mom and dad so proud to point out their child to the other parents. My daughter had mom. But I put myself into their place. I was a mom and a dad. I was one of those people at that moment. So I can say I did that. I bacame a part of all the things I was surrounded by even if for just a moment. I experienced it! I never had bounderies as you don’t. Our duties and experiences are endless and new ones drop into our world every single day. It’s called living! I love it!

    Thanks Meghan! I love how you make me think!

  4. Your article has made me wonder about the cultural differences in how people define themselves (and the extent to which they feel compelled to do so). I’ve recently moved from the US to Germany. In the US, when you meet someone at a party, the general conversation-starter is ‘What do you do for a living?’ Even if you’re meeting a 5-year-old for the first time, you typically ask, “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” More often than not, our work is the primary thing that defines us. At the same time, we have more flexibility in our work throughout our lifetimes – I’ve been a college admissions analyst, a secretary, a margin clerk, a school teacher, a social worker, an operations manager and an HR manager, a network security analyst, a policy analyst,and a tech writer. In Germany, however, the first thing you ask when you meet someone is NOT what kind of work they do. It’s almost considered irrelevant, coming up only if a conversation takes you there, and even then, the only details offered may be those germane to the particular discussion. And yet, by the time a kid is about 12, the education system in Germany has put him on a virtually immutable path to a job he is expected to have for his entire life. It would seem, then, that in Germany one’s job would more strongly define a person. Yet the opposite is the case — jobs are typically considered just something you do to earn a living rather than the critical element that differentiates you from others. Not having ‘what do you do for a living’ as a starting point for getting to know a person, I’ve had to work harder to get to know my neighbor, and it’s forced me to see ‘her’ a little earlier, discovering such things as the fact that she knows Swahili, for example. I found this out when she saw a piece of fabric I have in my kitchen, which has a Swahili phrase printed on it. And this knowledge of Swahili has nothing to do with her profession — I still don’t know what that is. And I don’t really know how she might define herself. But, after 9 months, I most definitely have a pretty good idea who SHE is. Kinda makes me wonder about the extent to which culture plays a role in this whole thing (but, alas, it doesn’t make me sufficiently curious to dust off my sociology/social work creds and go do a formal study).

    • Wow! That’s the point exactly! 🙂 Thanks Jaton!

  5. […] who is also a RebelMom contributor summed it up perfectly in a recent blog post on her site, Temple of Inspiration. She has kindly allowed my to reprint it for […]

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