I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my own identity and how I’m always discovering new things about myself. When you’re in high school and college, it seems to be expected that you will be making these kinds of discoveries all the time and constantly learning and growing as a person. I think it’s quite sad that our society doesn’t really acknowledge that this process never ends.
I haven’t been very intentional about my personal discovery since finished graduate school. I had it in my head that I knew who I was and that’s who I was going to be. Not so much.
Over the past few years I’ve discovered a lot about myself. None of this is earth shattering. None of this really changed how I live, but it’s given me some insight into who I am and why I am the way I am.
I’ve always been curious, and that’s helped me fall into a pattern of lifelong learning more generally. The most recent example of this was this past fall semester, when I took a statistics class. I manage a system at work that spits out statistical reports every term, and I didn’t actually understand what all the numbers meant or good statistical practices for comparison and benchmarking. I now know what a standard deviation is, why median is often more important that mean, and why everyone freaks out about these reports (because they are often small sample sizes or low response percentages, they’re observational, and they really shouldn’t be compared to one another). It also helps me not freak out about science and diet news because a lot of those studies have statistical issues too.
One of the more surprising things I learned through taking this class is the fact that I had internalized the “girls are bad at math” attitude without even realizing it. I’ve always done pretty well in my math classes. I was in the advanced or honors class, and even took AP calculus in high school (and earned a high enough test score to place into level two of college calculus for non-engineers too). Yet I’ve always seen myself as someone who is bad at math, or at least not good at it. And yet, fifteen years after my last math class, and ten years since my last class of any kind, I managed to bomb my first test and then come back to earn an A in the class. That’s proof that I can do this and I’m not bad at math, I was just a bit out of practice and didn’t properly prepare for that first test.
I’ve never been overly ambitious. Even in high school, I knew that the odds of becoming a bestselling author were low and the odds of being a high earning author were even lower. Writing has always been something I do because I love it, not because I wanted to make money doing it. Yes, there’s a little corner of my mind that wonders what it would be like to make the kind of money JK Rowling makes, but I know that’s highly unlikely. I have a friend whose goal for her writing is to make enough to buy breakfast at Cracker Barrel for her and her dad once a week. My current goal is to make enough money on my books to pay for my tax preparation. (The first year I made about $20 and it cost me $34 to do my taxes, which would have been free if it weren’t for the 1099-MISC…) Not lofty goals, but realistic.
This past November, going into NaNoWriMo, I was thinking about what I wanted to write, and decided I wanted to do something fun. Something just for me. Something that I never had to edit if I didn’t want to. And I had so much more fun during NaNo because of it. I didn’t have to worry about it making sense or what someone else would think about it. It was a story just for me. It was a happy love story with almost no actual conflict and it was delightful to write. Writing is about me. I reminded myself of that. Yes, I publish some of my work. Yes, I love hearing what people think, especially when they like it. But that’s enough for me. It doesn’t have to make money or make me famous (I’m not sure I’d like being famous anyway). It just has to make me happy. I knew that back in middle school and high school when I was first realizing my love of stories, but I’ve rediscovered that recently.
There are other things I’ve discovered about myself over the past few years, but if I cover all of them, this will become far too long, so I’m just going to look at one more thing.
I’ve discovered that I finally have the confidence to be obviously different. My whole life I’ve been one of those people who wishes they could be the one who was dressing in quirky outfits and wearing their personal style no matter what the current fashion was. I had my moments of meeting this ideal, but mostly I was too worried about the consequences and how people would see me. I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I’m confident in who I am, in the work I do, and in my ability to have my work and effort shine through even if I do look a bit quirky. So I died my hair rainbow for Halloween. It was great with my costume (I was an actual rainbow, complete with my own sun and raincloud, images below). But I didn’t do spray in color. I permanently died my hair. So I had rainbow hair for three months (more pictures below). And when the rainbow was starting to fade out more than I wanted and too much of the bleached-blond was showing, I dyed the whole thing purple. (Okay, let’s be real, I had a professional do this both times.)
The reactions to the rainbow hair were really gratifying. The people in my office loved it. People I don’t see very often on campus were excited and happy when they saw me. One of them actually said something along the lines of “I love it. A little rainbow is just what we needed this semester.” It was a rough semester for a variety of reasons. But I was able to bring a little bit of brightness and light into the room with me every time. I love that. The purple seems to be similarly popular and smile-inducing. It’s bright and bold and very me. It’s my favorite color so I can have purple hair, shoes, phone case and skirt all at once. This greatly amuses a lot of people, and they’ve started to notice I wear a lot of purple. The purple hair will also go great with the pieces of my rainbow Halloween costume that I’ll be wearing to work.
The confidence to dye my hair crazy colors might not seem like a big deal, but to me, it’s just one more way that I’m able to truly be myself now. I used to be afraid to admit things to myself or to others, but now, I don’t worry about it nearly as much. The people I care about and the people I work closely with are okay with me as I am. And that’s all I really need.
Life is a continual journey of discovery. I embrace that, and I love it. And sometimes, I discover little pieces of myself along the way. What neat things have you discovered lately (about yourself or anything else)?