Updated: Jan 16, 2019
Sometimes a simple question doesn't have a simple answer. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from? We usually have prepared responses that we keep repeating, in fact, at times we even start believing in it to the point where we become that response, it melts into our identity, into an image we have of ourselves. But what is our identity and can it be fluid?
Where are you from?
When some of my friends who don't have a quick answer (meaning one country or city) would be asked this question, they would get confused, start giving a story that makes you wonder if they're not someone who's running away from the police and had to create a new identity (or maybe it's just me and my love for thriller movies..) even though it's definitely not the first time they have to answer a question like that. "I was born in Germany but grew up in France and now I'm living in London, and oh, my mother is Spanish" or "umm, I'm Australian but my wife is Dutch so we're living in Amsterdam and I think I feel more Dutch than Australian, but I do miss Australia a lot". Being from one place but living in another one can make you confused, with time you stop feeling like X but you're still not Y, it's scary because it feels like you're losing the person that you knew your whole life but at the same time you're reinventing it. It opens new possibilities - while you don't get to choose the place you're born, you can choose the place you want to call home.
Who are you?
The place you're born or the one you live in can identify you but at the same time it poses more questions. What does it mean to be and/or to feel French, Lithuanian or Russian? I always thought of myself as a Lithuanian, it's where I was born, the native language I spoke and the place I always called home, I never really questioned it. However, a few years ago, I had a realisation that as most of my family isn't Lithuanian, "by blood" I'm more Russian (and whoever knows what else) than I am Lithuanian (and now it makes sense why it was always so difficult to draw family trees back in school). The identity I created or was given kind of fell upon me and became one of my core traits. It made me question what other things or titles I didn't choose but are a part of who I am. Woman. White. Heterosexual. All of those concepts are a part of who I am, they were given to me and similarly to many others. For some of us various identifiers we don't get to choose when we're born: sex, nationality, race, sometimes religion etc. come as a privilege and for some as a burden.
What do you do?
There are also those identifiers that we have much more control over: our hobbies, our professions. When I'm not among dancers, meaning, when I meet "normal" people (it happens less and less but I still try to expose myself to that kind of humans) and someone asks me "so what do you do?" I sometimes wish I had an answer that would be short and clear like "I'm a lawyer" or "I'm in IT" but I usually start with a bad joke "umm I'm standing here and talking to you haha" and then I go "I'm a dancer". And there goes another hour of "no, it's not pole dancing" (not that there's anything wrong with that, you'd just be surprised how many people think of it as a first thing to ask), "it's jazz music", "yes, Louis Armstrong", "no, not really rock & roll", "yes, sometimes I get thrown up in the air", "yes, that is my job". I'm not annoyed by the questions but what irritates me is that it seems that the thing you do for work, even if it's your passion, somehow gets to define you. We seem to want to know what someone's job is so we can put them in a box with a label "doctor", "teacher", "some complicated title in a bank". I am a dancer and it's one of the main things that identifies me but it's not the only thing, I'm a teacher, I'm a traveler, I'm a language lover and more things that I still want to discover.
Creating your identity
Once we start to hold on to that one identity (most often it's our profession), we become so attached to it that we start being afraid we might lose it or that someone else is better at it and then, if we're not good enough, if we're not as successful as someone else with a similar identity, we see it as a personal threat, we start thinking that if we did not succeed as an artist, singer, lawyer etc., we did not succeed as a person. But as a person, you're much more than that one thing you do as your work. You don't have to have one identity. Dig in deeper, find things, people, places that you love and see if it can become a part of who you are. Eventually I started to realise that my country, hobby, job, partner, parents.. don't necessarily identify me, that I can chose what I want to be and it's ok if it changes, it's ok if it's not for my whole life.
It wasn't until I let go of the life I thought I should have that I was able to embrace the life that was waiting for me (...). You are not your body and it no longer matters what you look like, where you come from or what you do for a living /J. Shepherd/
I want to share a ted talk that I've stumbled upon recently and that really inspired me to question one's identity. Janine Shepherd was an athlete who's identity was her body and who had to reinvent herself drastically, lose the things she thought was her and find the ones that really identified her.
Illustration: my sister Luka, you can find a lot of her art works here: http://liukajudenkova.tumblr.com