Trying to figure out who I am

I had a discussion with a friend of mine about identity, and how, when things change and you can no longer identify yourself in certain ways, it can be difficult to forge your new “identity.” That got me thinking about the different ways I have identified myself over my life.

The main identifier pre-high-school-graduation was as the “smart girl.” I am not an athlete (although I did try that in middle school) and I’m not musical (just . . . no) and I have zero artistic ability. But I am really good at studying and memorizing and learning. And test-taking. I think the key to being a “smart girl” is not necessarily to be the smartest. It’s to be the best at regurgitating the information. Often, people would explain things to me, and then I would do better on the test than they did. Not because I understood it better, but because I am a good test-taker. I feel like it’s wrong to take credit for being good at memorization, because that’s just God-given talent. I did work hard, but I can’t take all the credit.

I did a good thing by going to UNCG instead of some of the other, more prestigious places I got accepted. Because I needed to be able to identify myself in a different way, and UNCG allowed me to get a good education without experiencing so much pressure. I still got very good grades, but I didn’t feel that pressure to get perfect grades that I had always put on myself before.

Now that test-taking isn’t really a part of my life, I don’t worry so much about being the smart girl. I still struggle with this a bit, but it’s more that I feel the pressure of the past. I feel like people expect me to do well in Trivial Pursuit, and if I don’t, that maybe they won’t really think I’m smart anymore.

In high school, I was also the “Christian music girl.” This was mostly pre-internet, so information was harder to come by. I was the one in my group of friends who knew which albums were coming out, which concerts were going to be nearby, and all the latest news in the Christian music scene. There were some guys who were into the same bands I was, but not really any girls, and I enjoyed being that girl. (It didn’t really get me any dates, but I still felt like it made me cool.)

Over time, though, I have given up on the Christian music scene, and I don’t really follow much music anymore. I have lost my cool music girl status. I sometimes feel a tad bit defensive when bands I used to follow put out new albums and I am not interested, but I can’t afford to be as invested as I was, either time-wise or money-wise.

Another way I have identified myself has been as the “book girl.” When I was younger, one of the things I was usually praised for (and therefore drew a lot of identity from) was how fast I could read and how much I liked to read. When there were reading assignments, I was always the one with the most pages, or the most Accelerated Reader points, or the one who was finished first. Even now, when someone talks about how fast another friend reads, I still feel the incredibly foolish desire to make sure they know that I am a fast reader, too. That I often finish a book in a day. That kind of thing. I am getting better about it, but I still feel pressure from my friends to know about every book. Someone will say that he or she just read a book and ask me if I read it, and if I say no, comments like, “I’m reading a book Kari hasn’t read?!” are common. And, to be honest, not helpful.

It’s stuff like this that make Book Lover’s Trivial Pursuit kind of stressful for me, because I feel like people will think I’m a sham if I don’t get all the questions right. Which makes me nervous. Which makes me miss questions I should have known.

These days I probably define myself quite a lot by my librarian status. I want people to know that I had to get my Master’s to do this, and that it’s not just shelving books. I pride myself on always being one of the first to know things, just because we interact so much with the news and current events here at work. I think, even though I don’t define myself quite as much as the “book girl” these days, I do still pride myself in reading a lot, and reading books my friends have never heard of.

I think it’s obvious how all of these display an ugly kind of pride. You know, in general it’s easy to think, “What’s the harm in defining myself that way? I do like to read, and I do have a thirst for knowledge and information.” I think that one of the reasons it was so hard for me to not have a job last summer/fall was because I felt like I had no identity. I wasn’t a student anymore, so I couldn’t define myself by my grades. And now, let’s face it, no one cares whether I can read a book in a day. And the whole point of not having a job was that I didn’t feel like a “real” librarian. I was floundering.

But, as one of my friends reminds me almost weekly, none of these are where I should be finding my identity. Which brings my floundering into clear focus: I keep finding my identity in what I do instead of who I am.

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    Trying to figure out who I am

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