The Identity Battle.
Identity is a loaded concept. Always has been, but these days, even more so. Everyone carries multiple identities through the journey of their lives — your “home” self, your “work” self, your “IDGAF it’s Saturday” self, etc etc. All of us do it. However, more recently as conversations have become more pointed around issues of gender / race / class identity I’ve found myself questioning more and finding myself in a place where I’m questioning everything about this funny little life I’ve constructed.
Multiple identities are what make us unique and special. Managing it all as a solitary human being is exhausting. My company recently had a great D&I session where we talked at length about the identities we bring to work every day. It was cathartic in so many ways to just face the idea of identity. So much of the time, we sweep it under the rug. That’s why I’m writing this now. I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge your difference. And also acknowledge that while difference can be empowering, it’s also really hard to reconcile identities that can feel in conflict with each other.
I always say, the only thing I’m an expert on is who I am. So this is a bit on my own struggle / conflict with identity. Code-switching happens all day every day. But it’s all a tapestry of the human that stands (writes?) before you.
I own the identity of a corporate woman who mysteriously (and against most odds) stumbled into the C-suite and has got quite comfortable doing what I do, and hopefully doing it with some degree of expertise / skill. I’m tough and I’ve gotten tougher over the years. I take less bullshit. I have a slightly shorter fuse today than I did even six months ago. I have fewer friends. That’s part of it. Someone told me once that the air gets thinner the higher your rise on the corporate ladder (which I don’t think I’m on), but there’s certainly truth to it.
I own the identity of a fierce feminist, who fights every day for women to be in the spaces and places they deserve and have worked hard to be in. Period.
I own the identity of a woman of color. My experience is that I’m the “unidentifiable different.” Indian? Asian? Persian? South American? Mexican? I’ve literally heard it all. When I answer “Canadian” it’s the most fun to see folks reactions. “Oh I’m sorry, that wasn’t a brown enough answer for you?” They want to put you in a box immediately. Are you the “model minority”? “Were you born here?” Which to me is all to say “Do you belong here?”
I own the identity of a woman who grew up Muslim and have a Muslim name. This one is really hard given today’s world. I’m almost scared to write it down, which under no circumstances should ANYONE be afraid to state their religious background, but here we are. America.
I own the identity of someone who grew up quite humbly. My parents did not go to Ivy League schools or live in any kind of excess, but provided me with every opportunity a person could imagine (extensive music training, competitive athletics — all things on paper we should not have been able to afford). My family worked for every penny they saved up to live a life that they dreamed for us, even if it was nearly impossible to attain. Survival was part of how I was raised. Hard work was the only way up. Working three jobs in college to come out debt free and with honors at a very good (albeit public) university while also taking double credits per quarter, just because I loved learning stuff. “No” or “can’t” was not (and will never be) in the vocabulary.
I own the identity of a first generation immigrant. Who works hard and quietly, but also struggles with taking the credit or jumping to be the loudest in the room (although if you work with me now, you know I’m no shrinking violet). I’m a brown Canadian, who’s bias is to being polite. But don’t take that for weakness or lack of an opinion. “Immigrant” today takes on an entirely new meaning in light of our most recent activities in this fine country of ours.
I own the identity of a single, childless woman. The idea of the woman who can “have it all” the “all” is usually qualified as “job + with partner + child(ren).” For whatever reason the universe has not bestowed this upon me. And I don’t think that’s my equation. And I don’t know if I even want either to be honest (*says every singleton*). But regardless, it’s my choice. It’s not something that I need to pitied upon, but it is how our culture is set up — as a woman of a certain age, it is just not right to be single for multiple years. TBH I’m just trying to figure out how to have a healthy relationship with myself before dragging other people into the situation — but I don’t owe anyone an answer for it even though I feel like I do.
I own the identity of a person of privilege. I live a comfortable life, with a lovely roof over my head and food in my belly and savings in my bank account. If something awful happens to me, I’ll be OK. If something happens to my family, we’ll be OK. Most of America cannot say the same thing. Widen the aperture to the world (and even the country in which my parents were born), and I find myself even more fortunate position. There is a level of guilt I live with every day knowing that somehow, some way, I made it here, while millions (and even my own extended family) have not. There is also a paralyzing feeling of not being able to help others enough, not be grateful enough for what you have, and a plethora of other things that make this a complicated relationship with money and the things you have.
What does this all mean? I’m thrilled that there is a platform for a conversation that should have been had generations ago. And it is amazing to see change happening before my eyes. In front of all of us. While things feel slow to change, in the grand scheme of the universe, it’s all happening quite quickly.
It’s exciting, yet the backdrop to all of this, is many people struggling through the idea of all of these identity shifts that we have to play out every day. I’m a colleague, a friend, a family member, a “boss”, a leader, a mentor and a mentee — taking on all of the identities I just described in a course of a day. Like many, I’m also just really, really tired.
The battle of the identities within ourselves is massive. And it’s happening everyday. I wonder what it would be like to not have to think about the code switching that happens during the course of a day. I recognize and am honestly , real jealous of a lot of people who can come to the table (work, life whatever) without the baggage of the juggling of identities. But I own my identity in its entirety, so I don’t, for a moment, regret what I am.