Identity Formation Pt 1: Find Something and Stick With It
I was a very energetic child… much to my sister’s irritation :P Love you, Laura! Growing up, our family recognized very quickly that my sister and I had very different personalities. Laura being the more artistic, introverted, deep thinker, and I was constantly on the move, needing attention, and someone to play with.
I wanted to try all of the sports. I started out in soccer, but my parents began to notice that the only reason I liked it was for the orange slices and sitting in the goalie box picking flowers… and they really couldn’t handle too many more face injuries and bloody noses.
Find Something and Stick with It
In second grade, we moved to Rhode Island, and my next door neighbor was in dance. I looked up to her a lot, so I demanded to be put into dance classes. My parents kind of loved the idea. It provided discipline, it was athletic but also required teamwork and a lot of mental focus, AND you only had to sit through maybe 4 recitals a year!
So, they decided to put both my sister and I into beginner ballet, jazz and tap. I. Was. Pumped. My sister, not so much. She went reluctantly but ended up falling in love with it. I enjoyed it for a couple years, but then my restlessness kicked in and I wanted to be an ice skater or a swimmer or a gymnast or whatever my new neighbor was doing.
That’s when my parents laid down the law. They said, “find something and stick with it.” At the time, I was so annoyed by this. I wanted to do it all! But looking back, that is one of the best things they ever did for me. Because in the midst of all the change in our lives; moving, new friends, new houses, schools, etc. etc... It gave my sister and I identity.
When we would land in our new “hometown” my mom would take us to enroll in school and then to find a new dance studio. It was always exciting to see where we would be spending our evenings after school and meet the new instructors. Since we moved in the summer, dance camps or dance team practices would give us the opportunity to make friends in the months that would otherwise be very lonely. It also provided me with friends that shared a common interest and background.
The Challenge of Uprooting Your Hobbies
With every move came the discomfort of getting through those first few weeks of practice. The other kids had known the instructor and each other for most of their lives. Dance styles vary across many disciplines, and I always felt like I took a few step backs with each transition.
I started dancing when I was seven. By the time I got to high school, I had been to six different studios and had over a dozen different instructors. You could say it “enriched” my experience. And in some ways, I’m sure it did. But it also confused me. Every time I changed places, there was a big learning curve, and by the time I got over it, everyone was already moving on.
It felt like a constant game of catch up. It wasn’t just this way for dance. School was a lot like this, too. Every school moves at a different pace, some with entirely different grading scales. Some were slower than others, and so after the next move, I’d find myself feeling behind the other kids. I often felt like I was not as smart or talented as other people my age.
When those feelings started coming up, I would think, “Maybe I should switch into something else. Maybe I'm not cut out for this gifted program. Or, maybe if I tried swimming I’d just be a natural at it." So, I’d ask my parents to let me switch. But they were pretty strict on this one, and they’d say the same old thing, “Find something and stick with it.”
There’s No Shame in Trying New Things, But…
In seventh grade, I wore down my parents enough with my constant badgering to let me try other sports. They decided I could try school sports for one year and see what I thought. So, I took a break from dance.
That year I swam, played basketball, and ran track. It was a fun time, but all it took was for me to go to my sister’s dance recital at the end of the year to realize how much I missed it. Dance had become part of my identity and I felt out of sorts without it.
So, with a few told-ya-so’s from my parents, they re-enrolled me in dance, and I stayed with it until the end of high school. I even tried out for the dance team in college, but soon realized it was not going to fit well with my other priorities (but also, I wasn’t good enough and didn’t make it).
When you stick with something, even if it's not always your favorite thing, eventually it becomes a part of you.
When You Stick with Something, It Sticks with You
As an adult, I always find myself wishing that I had been much better at dance, that I had done competitions and been more serious. But when I think about it, I really did the best I could while still having a good balance in my life. I didn’t LOVE to dance the way some other people did, which is ultimately why I didn't compete or practice 24/7.
But I did love the friends I made from it, and the feeling it gave me when I could talk to someone about something other than my Dad being in the military and all the places I lived. It gave me something that was unique to me and very separate from the military. At the time, I didn’t think of it that way, but now as an adult I see the important role it played in my life.
The thing my parents recognized (that I did not) was the importance of having an identifier built into a life of constant change. My mom, having also been a military kid growing up, saw this from the beginning. In your formative years, you are learning a lot about yourself and how you fit into the world around you.
When that world changes every few years, it gets harder and harder to figure out your place in all of it. Dance was like a portable foundation I could take with me anywhere I went and put it down to start rebuilding again. It was not my entire identity, but it was a good place to start. As I got older I would come to realize how important identity is, and how easy it can be lost without having a strong foundation to start from. More on that in part two.