“We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
by Pete Ferguson
My daughters have been growing their hair out for almost three years. They all wanted to have more options with braiding, curling and other styling options several years back, and so they made a pact to grow out their hair.
This weekend, they all decided it was time to go back to a shorter length. Later in the afternoon, when middle daughter came up from the basement with a handwritten sign taped to her forehead with her name written upon it, I asked what she was doing. She replied “with my hair short, no one is going to know my name at school tomorrow.”
Later that day, all three daughters got into it and printed and laminated name tags in probably a 48 pt font size. This time, instead of using her real name, my same daughter had the name “Ginger.”
I can think of many other names I would have liked for her to have chosen that didn’t refer to a night club, but in her innocent 9-year-old mind, this is a tribute to last-year’s class pet, Mrs. Ginger, who died recently, and she also told me it is for the love of gingerbread cookies – yet another favorite teacher’s cookie of choice.
It got me thinking about labels assigned and chosen by me.
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
“We know what we are, but not what we may be.”
― William Shakespeare
And the list goes on for some time. How much identity do I allow such titles to affect me?
As I have had the privilege to travel the world, I certainly have better understood the titles of American, Indian (not Native American), Chinese, Korean, Australian, Singaporean, Malaysian, European, German … and the list goes on and on.
I learned quickly that what I thought – and was proud of – of the title “American” is not universally regarded outside of the US. I also realized the misconceptions I had about other nationalities – despite a father who constantly introduced us to people from around the world – still needed some corrections.
But I have come to a universal recognition – no matter where you go in the world, all people share a common bond: we are all looking for our identity, or working hard to maintain one. Some titles are shared, father, husband, mother, wife, daughter, son, and child.
Others titles can be more divisive depending on one’s point of view: Jew, Muslim, Iranian.
There are smaller things that can define our identity, as my daughter pointed out with her self-conscious feelings about shorter hair. This past year I bought a Jaguar, which put me in a different pool of car drivers than my beat up Ford Focus. I’ve also changed the arrangement of facial hair and Steph has helped me migrate through fashion. I am now in my 40’s and coming to terms with what that means – or doesn’t mean.
What ever titles you find identity with, I hope in the coming year we all strive to improve the quality of what those titles are. I know I certainly am working on: thin, healthy, well-balanced, good father, friend, coach, husband, determined, connected, inspired, pensive, goal-oriented and many more.
What titles are you ready to part with as 2012 fades away? What new titles are you looking forward to moving towards?
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
― Mahatma Gandhi