Exploring the I in Identity

It’s an autumn-drenched Sunday and I’m curled up in a fleecy blanket with a cup of tea vitalising my senses. I’ve parked my laptop right in front of me with the intention of tackling tasks which have been lingering on my to-do list for an embarrassingly long time. At the top of my priorities thrones the application for pre-settled status in the UK – a mission that renders as dry and tedious as it sounds. However, it needs to be done. Snuggled into my cosy space on the couch, I open the application for pre-settlement and start filling in blank after blank. I wade through the questions in a monotonous trance while sipping on my tea. Suddenly though, the system forbids me from continuing with the application unless I provide a proof of identity. “Oh no, seriously?” I protest annoyedly because I’m too reluctant to surrender my comfort under the blanket in order to fetch my passport now. So, instead of carrying on with the application for pre-settlement, I diverge my focus with procrastinating thoughts. 

Come to think about it – isn’t it funny how your passport supposedly captures your identity even though it’s a document no bigger than a square of toilet roll. I mean, what does my passport really say about my identity anyway? I beg to argue that my identity manifests far more than 168 centimetres from Germany. Surely, the person I am spans beyond some blue eyes sitting on a female face with brown curls. If my passport was to genuinely portray my identity, it should indicate that I am an athlete, unpaid artist, profound friend, occasional klutz, and semi-proficient student. Instead, my passport superficially describes my appearance while completely neglecting my personality. How ironic that the document, which is officially called proof of identity, reveals barely anything about my true identity. 

This gets me wondering, what lies at the essence of my identity and which parts of me define who I am? What springs to my mind first are the everyday activities which shape my identity. These include burying my nose in academic literature, hitting the gym before dawn, or devoting my heart to creative projects. However, my university career will end next year and the title of a student will accordingly be chipped off my identity. As a result, what would my identity change to once I finish my degree? Similarly, what if I broke a bone and I could no longer call myself an athlete. Who would I be then? What would remain at the core of myself?  

Perhaps I should specify my identity through more stable characteristics like patterns in my behaviour. I could name my stern ambition, pounding positivity, or social vein as prominent facets of my persona. Yet, looking back at my younger self, these traits were by far not as ripe throughout my adolescence as they are now. In contrast to my present self, I used to flounce around in dewy egoism and self-absorbed greenness. A very different person seems to have dwelled inside me when I was younger. The more I realise how much I’ve changed over time, the more I struggle to pin down the heart of my identity – the entity that has wafted through me since 1996. 

Time. Maybe time plays the decisive role in defining one’s identity because all the strings of one’s identity converge at the factor time. All the units that build our identity – our beliefs, thoughts, emotions, attitudes, perceptions, etcetera – join together at a common denominator, which could be called life experience or lifetime. Each day, we harvest new experiences that we store away in our memory, and every fresh crop of new experiences moulds our identity a little deeper. Our identity is essentially carried by the sum of our experiences, shining through in everything we do. This is why we may notice that our identity changes as time ripples past. But perhaps our identities are, in fact, supposed to change as they would otherwise indicate a stagnation in our personal growth. Perhaps identity should be altogether conceptualised as a trajectory rather than a point.

In light of all this, I shouldn’t complain about my passport limiting my identity down to aesthetic features. If my passport were to pitch the full assortment of myself, it would have to be updated bi-monthly, especially seeing as how fluidly my inner lining of interests, behaviours, and opinions can hop from one life phase to another. Now, imagine what a pain in the butt that would be – like the pain you get from sitting down for too long. On that note, I suppose it’s time for me now to get up from the couch. I emptied my tea too. So, I need to brew new one anyway, and on my way to the kitchen, I might as well fetch that passport from my room.

[Ricarda Senger – she/her – rikkisdiary.com]

[Photo credit: Masha Raymers]

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