Identity is a big topic for me in my writing. Who are you? Who am I? How well do we really understand ourselves as a person, and perhaps more importantly, how well do we accept ourselves?
Along this lines, one idea I’ve had rolling around in my head for a while is the idea of an “identity gap”.
To me, an identity gap is the gap between who we ARE and who we WANT TO BE.
Related to my post on fantasy, we all have an idealized version of self; this picture of who we wish we were, and how we wish our life looked. This ideal is related to our dreams, and may be influenced by the things we see around us or the expectations that were placed on us growing up.
However this is just an ideal, and I don’t think ANYONE is their idealized version of “self”. And for that matter, I don’t think anyone ever achieves it.
This concept of an identity gap has huge implications for the level of happiness a person has in their life. And I think this happiness is directly related to three questions:
- How big is the gap between who you want to be and who you are?
- Do you accept that your idealized version of self is simply an ideal, and not reality?
- What are you doing to improve yourself and close the gap between who you are and who you want to be?
What is your Ideal Self?
This is a tough question to answer. But I guess another way of look at it is, when you were a teenager who did you think you would be? What did you think it actually meant to be an adult?
This is an area where man oh man, I think a lot of us screw up something fierce.
On one hand, we have all these adults all around us modelling what life as an adult looks like. So you would think we would actually learn something from that.
On the other hand, we have tv shows, and advertising telling us how amazing we are, and how special we are, and how we “deserve the best”.
I’m not sure about this, but I suspect that even when all the evidence around us is telling us life as an adult is pretty mundane, there’s also a part of that expects life to look like a beer commercial.
I don’t think many teenagers/college students take a look at their parents and say “yup, that’s who I’m going to be when I grow up”.
For some reason we think we are different, and special, so of course our life will be different. We will set goals, and achieve all of our wildest dreams.
A few posts back used a line I found:
What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.
That line seems simple at first, but it’s also one of the most profound things I’ve ever read.
How things are “supposed to be”.
What life is “supposed” to look like.
What “love” is supposed to look like.
Who we are “supposed” to be.
I’m reminder of a scene from movie Boyhood. It’s kind of a bizarre film, as it doesn’t really follow a traditional mold; but it’s also really powerful. It was filmed over 12 years, and during the film you actually see the characters age and grow up.
In it Patricia Arquette starts out as a young mother with little education. And during the 12 years of the film her children grow up, she is married and divorced twice, and gains an education and becomes a college professor (I think).
Late in the film there’s a scene where her son is leaving for college and she breaks down. She reflects on all the things that have happened in her life, all the things she has done and accomplished. And then she says:
I just thought there would be more.
I just thought there would be more.
Life hasn’t matched up to the picture she had in her head. There was an identity gap, and when comparing reality to ideal, life ended up being a disappointment.
I think this happens often.
For some reason we expect “more”. And real life isn’t able to measure up.
In our society right now, depression rates are up. Anxiety rates are up. People talk about happiness as if it’s this magical thing that they can achieve. This goal in life that will make everything better.
So how do we make this better?
An Ideal is a Dream
I think one of the first things we need to do is accept that our ideal is simply something to strive towards, and not something we are likely to ever achieve.
And that’s alright.
We are all just “regular” people. We aren’t any better than anyone else, and we do not deserve special treatment.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t have goals – because we should. We need them, as goals give us something to strive towards.
Instead of just looking at our imaginary end state, we need to be able to set small milestones or goals, and celebrate the little successes we have along the way.
Because sometimes our ideal isn’t actually realistic.
So we shouldn’t measure our success in life against it’s end state. We need to be able to look at where we are now, and appreciate it each and every day.
How are you Trying to Improve?
Let’s say I want to make a fence. What do I need to do?
Does it help me to wake up everyday, look in my yard and think “man, I wish I had a fence”?
Ummm, no so much.
How about if I buy some wood and some screws, and put them in my yard and just leave them there?
I suppose that gets me a bit closer, but again, it’s not very helpful.
Instead, a few things need to happen.
- First I need to understand where I am today.
- Next I need to understand where I want to be.
- Then I need a plan to get from point A to point B.
- Lastly (and perhaps most importantly) I need initiative. I need to be willing to do something about it.
So everything starts with accepting yourself for who you are TODAY.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, good sides and bad sides. And until we accept ourselves for who we are today (warts and all), we can never move forward or improve. We are never able to live in the present moment, and able to appreciate the life we DO have.
When people are focused on their identity gap, they are focused on who they are not instead of who they are. And when THAT is the focus? If someone is focused on what they are missing or who they are not, I don’t think they will ever be happy. Because it doesn’t matter how much you improve, you can always get better. And people who are focused on what they are not are unable to live in the moment and appreciate the things they DO have.
So any improvements need to first start with self acceptance.
Once you have accepted who you are today, you are now in a position to better understand the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
Ironically, once you have accepted yourself it may not matter as much.
Because although we can always be “more”, when we have accepted ourselves we know we are “enough”.