People say you don’t really know who you are until your 30s. When I was in my 20s, I used to roll my eyes at that. Who knows “me” better than, well, me?
However, now that I am 30, I realize that’s actually kind of true. It’s not that we don’t know ourselves in our 20s; it’s more that we’re trying on a lot of different “identities” in an effort to figure out who we truly are.
Recently, I was invited to be a guest on a new podcast, called Wild Women Tribe. The topic of conversation was “identity.” And as I prepared my answers to the pre-interview questions, I uncovered some major truths and realizations of how my identity has changed over the years.
After all, when was the last time someone asked you pointedly:
Who are you?
Probably never, except for those times you accidentally send a text to a wrong number…
In answering this question, and the others below, I realized that my “identity” was harder to define than I thought.
There are many sides to me, and I’ve tried on various identities over the years. While this made for a bit of a rocky path in my 20s, I’m finally learning that it’s okay to have different “sides” of myself— as long as you know which ones to embrace.
Since I loved how the interview went, I’m going to format this as a Q&A — after all, when thinking about identity, you are basically interviewing yourself!
Here are the five questions that helped me re-define my identity at this point in my life, and I invite you to mull over your answers sometime as well.
1. Have you always had a strong sense of self?
In some ways, yes — and in other ways, definitely not.
I grew up an only child, which meant I spent a lot of time alone as a child. I had to discover what I enjoyed doing, what I didn’t like doing, and most of all, how to entertain myself. I also had a lot of interests when I was younger — I loved school, and I enjoyed sports, writing, and playing outside with my friends.
But I think as I got older, I felt the pressure to “fit in” with the cool crowd. I lost a bit of myself in college and my early 20s. I tried to subdue the slightly neurotic, type-A, sensitive side of myself in favor of a more casual, always-up-for-a-good-time version. I wasn’t trying to be someone I wasn’t; but I was trying to hide away parts of myself that I worried other people would judge or be turned off by.
I’m happy to say that now at 30, I’m fully embracing who I am, quirks and all. I’m owning what I’m passionate about, and I’m figuring out how I want to live my life — on my own terms, and no one else’s. I truly feel more like myself than I have in years, and it feels really, really good.
2. How do you define yourself?
An independent, ambitious, adventurous but also sensitive woman who cares deeply about my own well-being as well as the well-being of others.
3. Was there ever a time when you felt your identity was not yours? If so, what did you do about it?
Absolutely. As I mentioned, during my college years and my early 20s (really up until age 29!), I felt awkward and/or embarrassed about who I was at my core. I’m a thoughtful, introverted person who loves to be social and go out, but I also now know I can burn out easily. I now know how important it is to take time for self-care.
I definitely went out too much and too hard in my 20s, trying to be someone I wasn’t. I sort of hid this conscientious, thoughtful, sensitive side in favor of being always “on” and always “up for a good time.”
As a result, I dealt with a bunch of mental and physical health issues. I had gained weight, I had major digestive issues, and I always felt stressed. I just didn’t feel like MYSELF. (Turns out, I did develop a hormonal issue due to stress — read more about my experience with adrenal fatigue, here.)
At the time, I think I sort of blamed the city and its chaos. I blamed my lifestyle — but it was a lifestyle that I chose to live, working hard during the week and partying hard on the weekends.
But looking back, I realize it wasn’t New York’s fault at all. It was that I wasn’t staying true to who I am. I wasn’t embracing the more bookish, creative, introverted side of myself. I was trying to play by other people’s rules; not my own. I wasn’t paying attention to the signs that I was burning out and not taking care of myself — and it showed up physically.
I actually decided to move from New York to a big city in the South, which I thought may offer a better lifestyle. But I was wrong. That city had even less to offer me than NYC. The culture centered on drinking, and I fell into bad habits again, which took an even bigger toll on my mental and physical health.
Finally, I hit rock bottom. I had to take a step and realize that I wasn’t living in alignment with who I was. And as soon as I realized that — and moved out to Park City, UT, a city whose culture fit me so much better — my mental and physical health improved dramatically.
4. What or who keeps you sane?
First and foremost, I have to say my mom. However, at those low points of my life, I found it hard to talk to her when I was unhappy. Because she so desperately wants me to be happy and felt helpless that she couldn’t help me get there, our talks often end in arguments. But still, she’s been there for me every step of the way.
I’d also have to say that various therapists over the years have helped me stay sane! If you find the right therapist or even life coach to work with, it can work wonders. My most recent therapist pushed me to make the move from the South to my current city, and I’m honestly not sure I would have worked up the courage otherwise.
I’ll never forget pondering in her office, “What if it doesn’t work out? What if it’s just as bad as a decision as my decision to move here?”
Her response: “What if it does? What if it’s better than you ever could imagine?” That was all I needed to hear to start packing up my apartment.
In terms of what keeps me sane, my yoga practice is number one. I also love fitness in general (strength training has been huge in helping me work out anxiety and stress); being in nature (especially hiking!); being around close friends; and the beach (I’m a Florida girl at heart.)
5. How did moving to the mountains shape your identity? (Obviously this question is specific to me, but just swap out “moving to the mountains” to any recent change that’s happened in your life!)
It changed me for the better, both mentally and physically. After moving to Park City I almost immediately felt more free, healthier, and happier. I love that I can walk outside my door and be in true nature — something I could never do in either NYC or Atlanta.
Plus, the fact that the entire community here is obsessed with getting active outdoors has been incredible. It feels like a part of me that had been sort of stored away since childhood could finally re-emerge.
Moving to the mountains has also taught me that the other side of me was still valid too. It’s okay to have different sides of myself — as Walt Whitman wrote, “I contain multitudes.” It’s okay to still appreciate the part of me that loved living in the hustle and busy of hectic New York City. We don’t have to limit ourselves to one persona.
What’s more, we’re lucky that in today’s world, it’s possible to design a life that enables us to feed different sides of ourselves.
As I write this, I’m in Park City, where I spent this lovely spring day outdoors, in the fresh air, reading in a grassy field, and grabbing groceries at my small local grocery store. But in a few weeks, I’m going to head to New York City for work, and stay for a month. I’m looking forward to indulging my “city” side for a while, but knowing I have this peaceful mountain town to come back to.
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