Let me tell you about Bobby (he’s a combination of many of the young people I work with). This is Bobby’s senior year of high school. He was slated to be the starting first baseman on the varsity baseball team… literally a lifelong dream. Bobby played junior varsity as a junior but this was going to be his year. He had put in so much work and talked about this season with his friends since they were playing little league. Bobby is a baseball player. He’s got baseball player hair (he and his friends have been growing out their lettuce specifically for this most special season). Bobby dreamed of playing in the major leagues since he could walk and started playing catch with his parents. After a decent junior varsity season as a junior, he decided that senior year was probably going to be his last time playing on a team. And now it’s gone without ever happening.
Bobby found his identity in baseball. Bobby is not alone. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about lacrosse, or the school musical or that after school job. Many young people find their identity in activities and peer groups. In fact, many adults do the same thing.
So who is Bobby now that baseball is gone? Well, he’s still Bobby, but Bobby doesn’t know who Bobby is. Bobby had to fill out a little “this is who I am” form on the first day of his high school health class. He said, “I’m a baseball player. I’m tall. I like hanging out with my friends.” Bobby isn’t playing baseball. He can’t see his friends but plays online games with them… however, he’s still tall, but being tall isn’t helping Bobby as he faces an identity crisis.
There are millions of kids/adults like Bobby right now. The thing(s) they found their identity in has been taken away from them.
We’ve been facing a cultural identity crisis for some time now and it just hit an extreme rocket booster in the form of social isolation. Many have lacked identity all together, while others have found some identity in an activity or community… but those things are gone (for now). So who are they? Who are you?
First off, you are not what you do! You are much more than that. However, many people have never taken the time or had the help to wrestle with finding themselves in a way that they own.
So how do I find my identity?
I like to ask these two questions:
1, What is my ‘why’?
2, What are my strengths/characteristics that cannot be taken away and don’t require anything outside of me?
The first question is straightforward, while the second one is more than a mouthful. But both are equally significant in finding your true identity.
‘Why’ is the reason you do what you do. ‘Why’ is the reason a person gets up in the morning and why they get back up if they’ve been knocked down. ‘Why’ is the motivating force behind your actions and it’s the reason you persevere when things get tough.
In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” Viktor Frankl talked about the three parts to his ‘why’. He credits his ‘why’ as having helped him to survive the concentration camps.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” – Frankl.
One part of Frankl’s ‘why’ was a spiritual calling, believing that he was put on this earth for a purpose that he had not yet fulfilled. Finding a spiritual, beyond your own self, altruistic element to your ‘why’ has helped countless people to find an identity that cannot be taken away.
What do I mean by ‘strengths/characteristics that cannot be taken away and don’t require anything outside of me’? These are the real you. These are the true you. These are the you, that is the best version of you. These are the inner qualities and strengths that you own. For example to be loving, determined, creative, positive or compassionate etc. Things that you can be while doing your activity of choice, and still be if you were confined to a bed. The “you things” that no one else can change.
One of Bobby’s greatest strengths on the baseball field was his ability to encourage his teammates. The field may have been taken from him, but the opportunity to encourage those around him is prevalent. He checks in on his teammates to see how they are doing and “get them up” but doesn’t know that being an encourager off the field is part of his identity. That is a core piece of Bobby is… he just needs to be shown that.
So how does Bobby find himself with no baseball season? How does he discover his true identity when the thing he found his identity in has been taken from him? He’s probably going to need some help from someone, but ultimately he’s going to have to decide his identity on his own.
Here are some ways we can help Bobby:
1, Telling & showing him that he was always more than a baseball player.
2, Asking the right questions, so he is able to think about himself in a deeper way than he has before.
3, Encouraging him to live out his strengths, not just on the baseball field.