Kari gave us the powerful image of two people connecting by touching fingers and asked the thoughtful question, “Where does one stop and the other begin?” in her last post. Her poem, “Fusion,” challenges us to think about who we are without others and how our identity can be formed by what others think of us.
This thing I call “Pridentity” is another kind of fusion, one between achievement and identity.
Identity: who you really are when the stuff of life is stripped away.
Pride: feeling really good about yourself because of what you have achieved.
They seem so different. One is buried deep in the marrow of the soul, steady, yet hidden from others while the other is shallow, fleeting, flaunting, and accepted by others. One is all about who, the other all about what.
Yet these two things become so intertwined and confused that it can become impossible to know where achievement stops and identity begins. The two fuse together, forming a pridentity.
Pridentity: a self defined by achievements.
When you meet someone new, what is the first thing you want them to know about you?
If something that you do or have done – your achievements in your job, one of the roles you play in your family, something from your past that still defines you, a talent that you have, or an experience you have had that means a lot to you – is what comes to mind, maybe your pridentity has taken over?
How do you answer the question, “Who are you?”
Can you answer without referencing your titles, your schedule, or your past?
Has your what become your who?
Can you separate yourself from your achievements?
As an achieving type, I have wrestled with pridentity plenty throughout my life. At times, my identity has been tangled up in the cycle of achieving. I have clung so tight to this what that, without it, I was not sure who I was. During my 10 years of managing a physical therapy clinic, the state of the clinic often dictated my mood and ability to be present at home. I made many choices based on what was best for my work. I loved my job, but it practically defined me.
What did I want everyone to know about me? What I did for work.
Who was I? My what was my who.
Maybe your work is not your who. Maybe for you it’s being a parent. You want everyone to know how many kids you have and how they are doing in school or on the field. Maybe it’s being a talented artist. You want everyone to know about the song you wrote or your Etsy store. Maybe it’s about something in your past. You want everyone to know that you spent 2 years in the Peace Corps in Africa or all about your college soccer career.
When I left my clinic to change jobs earlier this year, I wondered who I would be without my clinic. I am now two months into life without that job. And I am learning some things about pridentity.
I am discovering that the paradox of a too-close relationship with achievement (the what) is that it feels like enough, but it actually holds us back from being all we can be. It keeps us in a box, focused on the short term and the finite, distracting us from the long term and the infinite that are the essence of our identity. Pridentity seduces us with its changing nature, inviting us to hop from one achievement to the next to collect more whats, free us from boredom and trick us with its filling. But identity, apart from pride, is unmoveable. It should be the thing that fuels our achievements, not the thing that is defined by them. Identity is a source of freedom – the freedom to achieve and relate in life-giving ways. And that is what really fills us.
I no longer have a clear answer to the question, “What do you want everyone to know about you?”
And it feels good.
And I can answer “Who are you?” without the desire to list my whats now.
I am a woman who says, “yes,” to God now and seeks understanding later. I strive to live life hungry, not full and satisfied. I stretch myself to the point that true humility is required. I risk in faith and refuse to be paralyzed by fear. I live with hope and heal from hurt. I choose forgiveness over revenge.
And, I wonder if being fused to this kind of identity may be my greatest achievement yet.
Who are you – without your whats?