During my senior year of college, I went with my boyfriend to visit his family for the weekend. When we arrived, there was a message to call home as soon as I was able.
My family’s home had burned down. In the matter of a few hours, what was once a two-story home became a pit of ash and twisted metal. We lost one dog and all of our possessions.
In the days and months that followed, we grieved. We mourned the loss of our favorite possessions, keepsakes, and photos. I’d lost the baby blanket my great-grandmother had made for me and the heart-shaped ceramic box my Dad gave me for my 16th birthday.
We all mourned the loss of the big-as-a-bathtub wooden chest filled with items documenting our family’s history like our own fossil record. Layer upon layer of drawings and report cards and photos covered the thick packet of letters my Dad had sent home from Vietnam and my mother’s tissue paper wrapped wedding dress.
We all suffered loss, but ultimately the experience drew our family together and we realized that memories don’t need a memento. We had each other. We still had the experiences. The fire’s gift was to forever relieve us from the illusion that the items crave and cling to actually matter. We would no longer allow ourselves to be defined by our possessions.
You are not: your car, your house, the size of your television, or the model of your iPhone.
You Are Not Your Belongings.
When I finished college, I went to grad school and got my Masters in Education. I had always loved traveling and different cultures and I wanted to teach in rural Alaska to experience the culture heritage of my own state. Each year a job fair for educators is held in Anchorage. Nearly all of the state’s school districts attend and interviews are conducted on site.
At the end of the job fair, I had multiple job offers and accepted a position teaching 5th grade. This is was the best contract in the State of Alaska. I had a full-time aide, five computers in my classroom, $700 dollars to spend on teaching supplies, and was the highest paid first year teacher in the state.
Three and a half months later, I turned in my resignation letter, packed up my classroom in the middle of the night and left without saying goodbye to my students.
When I returned to Anchorage, I found a job and an apartment before being overtaken by depression. Everything I had been focusing on for the past six years had come unraveled. I had set out to make a difference and instead hadn’t even been able to complete the school year.
I felt a tremendous amount of shame. I had failed. And not only had I failed, I had failed dramatically.
In a span of a few months, I had completely derailed from the track I had set out for my life. I was left in the midst of the wreckage wondering what had happened.
In the months that followed I learned a lot about myself. I’m learned that I’m not very good at asking for help and was able to gain some perspective on the situation. But most importantly, I learned to never again allow my identity to be tied to my job. Teaching is something I love, but it is not who I am. Just as flying is something I love, but it is not who I am.
You are not your promotion or your resignation. You are not your title or the letters after your name.
You Are Not Your Profession.
The things outside of ourselves are expressions of our inner-selves. Things on the outside may be taken away, but things on the inside can only be given away.
Recently I discovered Steve Rosenfield and his What I Be Project. His intent is to create security through insecurity. Each person he photographs writes a few words on themselves and then creates a statement to go along with the image. Here are a few of my favorites:
Sharing what we want to hide most liberates us from its power.
- You are not your family of origin.
- You are not the number on the bathroom scale.
- You are not your decision to stay in an unhealthy relationship.
- You are not your bankruptcy.
- You are not your past.
- You are not your children’s lives.
You Are Not Anything Outside of Yourself.
We’ve all had failure. We all fear being inadequate. We all fear being found out. By declaring who we are not, we learn who we really are. When you move into your deep yes, you allow others to move into theirs.
Who are you not? Share in the comments.