15 Apr Hello 911? I think I’m having an identity crisis.
How do you feel when you receive a compliment from someone? Do you accept it and believe that you have the quality people tell you you have?
Honestly, I don’t like to be labelled as having a ‘quality’ in me. The whole process feels painful and uncomfortable – accepting a compliment from another, or even making someone else feel better about themselves. It often feels fake, made up & superficial. I don’t know how many of us feel this way too, but I feel that categorizing ourselves or ‘praising’ ourselves to such an extent gets a little disorienting.
For example, when I say that I am humble, I remember all the times I haven’t behaved that way. If I say I’m meticulous and adore taking care of tiny details, I remember how disorganized my room is. There’s so much discomfort when I try to imagine both these realities existing together.
“You are …”, “I am …”, I don’t know, doesn’t it contradict all the times when we are not?
It even brings up discomfort when the person who told me I have an X quality, praises the same in another. It takes some time to get used to the fact that we’re told we’re unique, but we really aren’t.
Maybe my experience around this began when I would come first in competitions in school. I had 19 certificates in 1st grade, and I still remember my school principal saying, “Oh wow, that’s heavy!” while handing them over.
I also recall myself being your regular ‘teacher’s pet’, where teachers would use my notebooks as a reference for other classes & most of my classmates liked me too, unlike the stereotype. I even had a great memory and performed well in my exams.
‘Shreeya Mendiratta’ had slowly started becoming an identity in my school. Naturally, people, especially my mom, loved to speak about how “wonderful” her daughter is to everyone, with pride. And that one aptitude test we all give after 10th grade? Career confused Shreeya got an “Oh you’re so smart! You’re in the Top 10%. You don’t need to worry! You’ll do good in any field you choose!” This train of ‘Shreeya can do everything well if she sets her mind to it’ went smoothly well for a long time. But things changed when I faced one of the first failures in my life.
I can’t recall how things really began but once I grew older, I didn’t achieve the same grades. I didn’t have a lot of extracurriculars to show for university applications. I could only write about my younger self & her ambitions. I began wondering what went wrong.
Am I really a leader that led my group projects in school? Am I really that good that people used to praise me? Am I really smart? And if not, then who am I? Maybe now, I’m a loser. Maybe something ‘ruined’ my life. Maybe I’m fake.
As a teenager, my teachers had started disliking me, and even my whole school eyed me as arrogant & distasteful. Maybe I had all those qualities I did as a child, but I was also impulsive, irresponsible, carefree, disorganized and stubborn.
These other traits were amplified but I was still very strongly attached to my earlier identity. The qualities the younger me had were desirable and glorified in the society we live in. That younger Shreeya’s identity was what made me feel secure.
And without it, I felt quite the opposite.
By this time, those compliments and qualities had started nagging me in my head.
Everything I did, be it an academic project, an extracurricular project, or a personal one, unless and until I performed the same way – it didn’t satisfy me. It didn’t satisfy that identity in my head. If in my college projects, I wasn’t the one who came up with the ‘best ideas’ everytime and do my work in the most unique way possible – I’d doubt my identity. My fear of failure grew, as I slowly started subconsciously avoiding taking things up in an ode to protect my identity – and never make mistakes or face judgement.
Growing older brought with itself more responsibilities and greater opportunities but my mental resistance stood strong. My procrastination grew manifold. I’d often just sit and stare at a wall for hours, fighting a battle in my head. I now became, the ‘she overthinks so much’, ‘she lives in the past too much’, ‘she’s too lazy’. From the go-getter to the absolute no-getter. What could I even do? I couldn’t go back without faking it, and I couldn’t stay in the present because it was too painful.
One thing I’ve learnt in this process is to not become attached to external validation, whether positive or negative. Looking back, I know that no matter what I did back then, or what I do now, nothing has been ‘fake’. As a child, I may have performed & it may have been dependent on the energy, practice and efforts I had put in or the help I received. But that doesn’t make it my identity. That doesn’t give it the logic to be an eternal pressure for me to perform.
I’m human. I live in the present, and what I do now will only define my tomorrow.
This reflection has also taught me to focus more on my own perception of myself and hone the qualities that come naturally to me through my family.
My mom’s given me her sincerity and meticulousness, while my father has given me his empathy and playfulness. To witness these sides of me showing up has been the ultimate joy. I remember my mentor, Adi, telling me that if you just accept that the qualities inside of you, are because they’ve been passed on to you and that makes you different from others, you don’t fall into the ego trap of feeling ‘inferior’ or ‘superior’ to anyone.
If you’re ever in a position where you’re utterly confused about yourself, one thing which worked for me – was to explore who I am by ‘doing things’. This created a window to understand what came naturally to me, what I value and what I can explore further. And I can only hope – that maybe this way I’ll get better at answering the question “Introduce Yourself” at interviews!
[Hi! I’m just your average final year undergraduate student trying to find her path – and gracefully struggling to wake up early morning on time 😛]