We seem to get caught up a lot in identities these days. Mostly, what others see when they look at us and all the things they notice. Our clothes. Stature. Personality. What about the ones we love? What do they see? I often times wonder this, too. I think it’s a part of human nature to not only wonder how we come across to those around us, but also if our perceptions are decent enough for peer approval. If I’m to be honest with myself, though, the latter half of that statement is an unfortunate reality. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t worry so much what others think, or even if they think we’re good enough. But then again, how would social media survive without this flaw in human thinking? Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Snapchat gives us the control in the way others see us. We only give them the aspects of our lives we deem appropriate enough to be judged as “having it together.” People are crucified for airing dirty laundry on their timeline, sharing too much, and conversely, sharing too little.
Every so often I’ll check my own profiles and look over all the stuff I’ve shared and try to get a feel of what others must think when they come to my pages. In a nutshell, it’s basic stuff. I’m married, studying fiction, and quite possibly pregnant. I love Texas, my family, and a sarcastic joke here and there. I catch myself though, because deep down I know the way others see me isn’t important. What I really want to know lately is not your opinion of me when you see my face, but every morning when I wake up and look in the mirror with my bedhead and wrinkles in the cheeks from the sheets and decide who it is I see in that reflection.
So, who am I? Is my identity based on what I do for a living? For years I was certain that, not only my identity, but my self-worth was based on the career I chose. I was comfortable being a student with goals pre-planned for me. Middle school to reach high school. High school to reach college. College to earn a degree and get a job with that job defining who I am. How many times do we hear that notch of information thrown in when being introduced to someone new, or discussing old childhood friends and neighbors? “Oh, he’s an engineer and working for NRG.” “She teaches the third grade.” “She lives in another country working for some big-wig doing some real sciency research.” We have this fear (or at least I did) that we will be discussed at some dinner or social function with our careers being tossed around with judgment, our peers deciding once and for all if we are successful.
After college, I worked at a bank. I made a decent salary. I contributed to our household income. What others saw when they met or talked about me and my husband probably had a lot of phrases like “DINKS” used, and more importantly, assumed I was happy.
I loved my husband. I loved our life. But I was unhappy with the way I was measuring my self-worth. I didn’t want to be a banker. I wanted to be something else and realized I had avoided being that something different all along because I was afraid others would look at me and as see me as unworthy just because I wouldn’t earn any money, or hold a title. But I couldn’t look in the mirror and see myself the way I had made myself to be for the satisfaction of others anymore. So I stopped, and pretty soon I quit worrying about all the other things too, and you know what? I realized what I saw in that mirror wasn’t so scary after all.
However, change is inevitable. Life moves on and sometimes that image in the mirror changes without our permission, too. These days, I look at myself and see someone completely different than who I was even a year ago. I was a graduate student then, working towards goals I had planned out for myself. Technically, I’m still a student, but on a bit of a hiatus. A leave of absence caused by an abrupt change I hadn’t seen coming. So what, or who, do I see now?
I walk into a room that once held books – dozens of books I had read and planned to read – and see empty spaces now waiting for a crib and dresser to fill it up. A closet that held papers and binders of works in progress and peer edited drafts of projects now holds folded up onesies and swaddles that have been carefully washed and stowed away to await the soft, sensitive skin of a newborn. Kitchen counters with wine racks are dotted with pacifiers and bottles. A stroller sits in our foyer. And soon, a car seat will be installed in our SUV.
I can’t help but see these changes in our house and the waves in which they keep happening. I’ve changed, too. Numbers on a scale have gone up. Clothes come with different accessories so I can wear them appropriately in public, and my figure, too. I look in a mirror today and see a growing belly and all the changes that pregnancy brings, aware of all of this even without a mirror. I lay on the couch with my spouse and he feels the changes too, each bump and swirl of the life inside, waiting to meet us when she is ready.
So, who am I now, if I’m not actively studying fiction, attending classes, or writing? Am I still that same person I became when I gave up the banking job? Am I a mother, even if our child is not yet born and the diapers and Wubbanubs are stored away? Can I be both? And then, I realize I’m not wondering what others see when they look at me, but what my own daughter will think when I walk into a room to retrieve her from a nap, or pick her up from school, or dress her in a cap and gown for her own graduation and she catches my eye. Will she see a mother who lived a successful life? Will she see a writer? Will she see both?
And then I know the answer. The one thing we should all worry about when it comes to viewing others and deciding what their life must be like. Or, what we see when we look at ourselves. It really is the most important thing, and what I’ll continue to strive for in this period of change and trying to see who I am. I want to look in the mirror and see just one simple thing, and I hope you see it, too. I hope my spouse does, and one day, I want my daughter to look at me and see the same thing.
– S.A. Dees