When Is It Too Late To Claim Your Identity?

Most people are born with an identity. Parents provide the baby with a name. Grandparents exclaim that the baby smiles just like Uncle Harry, “but that nose! Oh, that’s definitely Aunt Sally’s nose!” Friends comment that the baby is unusually inquisitive. “Look at how she follows the dog with her eyes! She’s going to be a veteranarian!”

As time goes on, parents do their best to manipulate baby’s identity. “He’s such a happy baby! I swear, he never fusses – even when he’s hungry!”

Later, teachers get to take a shot. “Well, I’m not in a position to make a diagnosis, but I can tell you that all of the other children come right to the rug when it’s time for circle, and he just doesn’t seem to listen.” Parents fret that baby isn’t fitting the mold and buy books like “The Strong-Willed Child” to figure out how to fix it.

It’s not until pre-adolecence that we start to figure out that we are able to have some say about our direction. In fifth grade, she decides that she wants to be a tomboy, wear nothing but jeans and flannel shirts, and play kickball on the playground every day at lunch. He decides he’s going to be a Cassanova and sets off on a mission to kiss ten girls before Christmas. We start to push back on the identity that our parents created for us and try to figure out where we fit in relation to everybody else. She doesn’t want to be known as the quiet girl anymore, and starts to hang out with a different bunch of friends. He doesn’t want to be “he” at all, and asks people to start calling him Erica.

I think that’s where I lost the plot. I never created my own me. In junior high, I identified as tall, nice, smart, but not cute – not datable. In high school, I was still tall, nice, and not datable, but I realized I wasn’t smart either. I was slightly above average. I would give myself a 65. Of course, I don’t know who would score themself a 30, so the numbers are probably skewed.

In high school, I was supposed to figure out what version of me I was going to stick with, but I honestly think I was just too tired. Maybe it was because I’m gluten-intolerant, and all of that bread was zapping my energy. Maybe I was on too many committees: yearbook, literary magazine, newspaper, nuclear awareness… Maybe I just was too slow, and everyone claimed all of the good ones before I got a chance to jump in.

For a while, I tried to become interested in politics and social causes; but, being a 65, I never felt like I knew enough to discuss anything in depth. I tried being deep and introspective, listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Jackson Brown, and looking at most people like they couldn’t possibly understand. That was fairly isolating, and I got tired of moping.

In college, I still wasn’t smart, energetic, cute or datable, and I was starting to worry. It was getting too late to choose a passion. I was missing the boat. I started smoking pot – and lots of it – because when I was high, I didn’t care if I was directionless.  I was okay right where I was, watching Maryanne, Ginger, and Gilligan put on a talent show for Skipper and the Howells. I was just fine skipping classes and eating bagels in the Atrium, watching the other students go on their way.

Before I knew it, I was a senior, graduating, and going out to find a career for myself. Except, you guessed it, I didn’t have one iota of an idea about what to do with my life. I took a job in the accessories department at Jordan Marsh and got married.  I got a job in sales and had a daughter. I got a Master’s degree in Elementary and Special Ed and had a couple more kids. I opened a tutoring franchise and then closed it 7 years later because I couldn’t make enough money. I got another sales job and a divorce. All the while, I’m still just background. I’m the chorus in the spring musical.

There should be someone who tells you, before it gets too late, that you need to choose a path. Do it quickly, before you get to the fork in the road and discover that doors number 1, 2, and 3 are closed and bolted shut. While your friends are choosing the road less travelled, you end up just headed southbound on Route 95 during the afternoon commute.

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