People are complex creatures. None of us can be summed up by the labels that get applied to us, but most of us have a set of labels that we use as a personal version of an elevator speech to describe who we are to people we are just meeting. While the ones we share in any given instance vary according to the situation, these labels commonly include what we do for a living, where we are from, our faith tradition, our relationship status (single, partnered, married, with/without kids, etc.), where we live, and what hobbies we engage in or what organizations we donate our time to.
I’m finding that being in a prolonged period of intense transformation in so many areas makes it even more difficult than normal to find accurate labels to define myself when making this kind of small talk with new acquaintances. Because so many areas are in the midst of transition, nothing seems to fit. How do I tell someone else who I am when I’m not even sure I know myself?
I shared earlier this week my struggles with trying to answer the question about where I’m from. It’s far from the only area in which I struggle to define myself, particularly to other people. My current job has nothing to do with my job or educational history. It is just a means of income as I continue to explore how to turn my passions and callings into self-employment in a way that is still terribly undefined. But this makes the perennial “So what do you do?” question difficult to answer. Giving my current occupation feels misleading, but explaining the full context is overkill in a situation where I’m just meeting someone.
My faith journey has wandered all over the place, and I still have no idea how to define what I actually believe. I’m slowly working my way toward clarity, but right now, I have no clear answer of any kind to questions about religion or spirituality. I grew up fundamentalist Southern Baptist, almost became Roman Catholic as an adult, was then confirmed in the Episcopal Church, wandered away from Christianity altogether to explore new age thought, paganism of various kinds, Buddhist thought, and yoga philosophy. I’m now exploring progressive Christianity and Quakerism to see if I can find a home there. So what exactly does that make me other than confused and seeking?
Having only come out (even to myself) as a lesbian over the last couple of years, even relationship-based questions can be tricky. I’m divorced and have only dated men in my past, but I call myself a lesbian. This feels accurate to me based on what I know of myself, but it leaves others (both gay and straight) looking at me like I have three heads. It’s not an easy thing to explain in casual small talk. To say that I’m divorced is true, but it feels a bit misleading since it would seem to indicate that I’m straight. To say that I’m single dismisses years of history and experience.
These are all areas that I know are going to take time to resolve enough to find labels that fit me in a way that is more helpful to someone trying to learn about me. While I struggle with the answers now, I know that it is going to take time and patience for the appropriate answers to emerge.
The question that I’m struggling with in a more immediate way is the one about how I spend my free time—my hobbies, my interests, my organizational affiliations, my leisure activities. The one answer that is beyond obvious to me and anyone who knows me at all is that I love books and reading. No doubt at all there. That’s been a constant since I was knee high to a grasshopper. But as I was spending time at that gathering last weekend where I was meeting a room full of fascinating people, I realized that I had very little else to add to that. It was a bit disconcerting to realize this. I have lots of interests that I’ve thought about trying or that I’ve dabbled in too lightly to even be mentionable, but I don’t have a list of hobbies (other than the aforementioned reading) that I engage in with any regularity or depth. Beyond my love of reading, I feel like a blank slate.
I’ve been pondering this deeply today, and I think I’ve figured out one of the main reasons this is so. As a recovering co-dependent, I’ve spent most of my life looking to the significant others in my life to define me. This included defining the hobbies that I engaged in. I have such a wide range of interests—from writing to music to kayaking to dancing to drawing to walking to crochet to woodworking to hiking and backpacking to learning languages to jewelry making to yoga to photography to pottery to singing to meditation to … well, you get the idea—that it always seemed easier (and safer?) to fall in with whatever of these the important person (or people) in my life were interested in. That saved me from having to choose, made sure that I was acceptable to the people in question, and gave me automatic company and assistance in whatever hobby was selected. I could also make sure I never picked anything that might put me in any way in competition with these important people in my life.
But because none of the relationships lasted, none of the various interests got very far either. I have diving gear and a dive certification that was used on only one post-certification dive. I have a high-quality backpack that’s only been used once and plenty of other backpacking gear that has never been used. I have woodworking supplies, books, patterns, and tools without the equipment needed to use any of it anymore. I have languages that I once learn and have now mostly forgotten because I have no one to practice with. I have enough craft supplies to fill up my spare bedroom with few of them ever seeing the light of day. I have books on photography but no camera of any decent quality. I have handouts for scores of line dances I once knew but haven’t danced in almost twenty years. And on it goes.
For the first time in my life, I want to choose my own hobbies based only on my own interest level without waiting for someone else to define this for me. I want to take this blank slate and fill it with things that would make me the kind of person that I would find interesting, regardless of whether anyone else finds my hobbies and activities interesting. I want to be proud of how I’m choosing to live my life and able to account for how I spend my time in ways that are interesting to me. If someone comes along some day and finds my life interesting enough that they want to share it with me, that’ll be wonderful. But if not, I’ll be too busy enjoying myself to worry about it.
I’m tired of finding myself and my blank slate of a life to be boring, so I think it’s time to make some changes. It may take some trial and error to find the right answers for me, but I’m looking forward to the process!
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.