I’ve been thinking a lot lately about identity. I like to think my identity is something that’s constantly evolving and I hope it always will be, but I’ve found some really incredible ladies on youtube that have inspired me to think about what I WANT my identity to be based on. It feels powerful.
The other night I was sitting in my room after a long day at work feeling frustrated and irritable. I clicked around on youtube looking for something that I hoped would cheer me up when I came across a video of a girl named Lizzie Velasquez. She did a talk on Ted Talks. She’s the same age as me. Lizzie has a disease that prevents her from gaining weight. She cannot hear out of one ear and she cannot see out of one eye. Like me, Lizzie has goals and aspirations and dreams and she deals with daily frustrations and struggles to reach them.
When Lizzie was in high school someone posted a video of her that was just an eight second still of her face. It invited people to comment on “the ugliest woman in the world”. Lizzie told the story of the day she read the awful comments that encouraged her to commit suicide and a host of other cruel and biting words intended just to hurt. She talked about how she decided what would define her and how it would carve out her life and there she was standing up in front of an entire audience of people and millions more watching from home being vulnerable and telling her story; letting her courage define her.
I was touched in a way I don’t know that I can fully explain. It felt like a hollow little opening had whittled away a space in my stomach. It had filled itself with absolute empathy for a young girl whose beautiful heart just mesmerized me. In the midst of circumstances where most would have faltered and let it define them, she gained strength.
Next in my youtube quest I found a doctor by the name of Brene Brown. She has spent her life researching shame and vulnerability. She talks about the presence of it in human life and how paramount it is to living whole-heartedly. “The only people without shame/vulnerability in their lives are the only ones without the capacity to experience human connection”, she says. She talks about the relationship between shame and perfectionism and how it drives self-worth in a culture where it’s taboo not to walk the talk and live the perfect life. People are afraid to make their own definitions.
She also says “Real courage is telling your story and liking yourself while you do it”. I think it’s my new mantra. The more I think about what I want to base my identity on, the more I realize it’s that. I want to embrace vulnerability and learn how to open my heart and myself to the moments and the opportunities that scare me. I think it’s too easy to shield myself from criticism and hurt and miss out on the moments that truly could be wonderful because I know it doesn’t ultimately protect me from the hurt, it just serves to dull the joy.
When I was given the opportunity to stand up in front of people and facilitate sessions at work I was terrified. I was sure I couldn’t do it and even went as far as to go back to the person who’d taken a chance on me by giving me the opportunity, to tell her I couldn’t make it happen. She didn’t put her arm around me and say “well..if that’s what you think is right” and let me off the hook. She said “Well…I happen to think you can do this. You just need a little push”. That was it. The very next week I was rushing into her office with the biggest grin on my face, telling her I’d done it after all.
When I watch someone like Lizzie Velasquez I am inspired because she has a choice. She has it tougher than many but it is not an excuse not to put herself out there and be vulnerable. She is the definition of courageous. Her identity is not based on the disease that makes her different, it’s based on the strength that makes her different.
As a human being and a creative spirit I want to live this. I want to be inspired by the moments in life where I feel most vulnerable and I want to make mistakes and get messy to become a better me. I want to work at living my life with my arms wide open rather than shut because I’m so busy shielding myself from potential harm that I miss the joy. I want my identity to be wrapped up in living wholeheartedly.