When I was a little girl, I dreamt of what I would be when I grew up. A mom of three children. And why three, as if this were the magic number, I don't know. I also wanted to be a teacher. Probably because of my second-grade teacher, Ms. Sotello. She was gentle, kind, beautiful, and ambidextrous. I wanted to be just like her. As I grew out of childhood and became a teenager, my desire to be a teacher faded. During a year of volunteering at a local hospital, I decided I wanted to go to nursing school. And so I signed up for nursing school that fall and spent the next three years eating and breathing textbooks filled with disease and how to assess and think critically.
It has been 15 years since I walked across that stage in cap and gown, stood smiling for graduation pictures and thought to myself, this is my forever career. I feel like I've lived a whole lifetime of events since that day. A marriage, three births, divorce, remarriage, several moves, loss of loved ones, and a personal tragedy that altered and reshaped my life.
It is only recently that I've realized how much of my identity was tied up in my title as a nurse. It's the one thing I always found myself mentioning when describing myself. It gave me a sense of feeling smart. Competent. Accomplished. Worthy. It's as if at some point in my life, the world taught me that my identity was defined by what I accomplish. I have seen that manifest in a hundred different unhealthy ways in my adult life. I also realize it's not the only mask I hide behind at times.
Most of us have that one thing. Or maybe you have many. If you don't believe this, ask the people in your life to identify themselves using 3 words. Often, the most popular responses will be life roles. Wife. Mother. Husband. Job title. Or something they are good at. Writer. Singer. Athlete. Sales. But is our identity really defined by these fragile things? What happens when the children grow up and leave home? Or when the job is lost? Or the thing you were so good at, you are no longer able to do? We should be careful to identify ourselves by things that can be taken away.
Have you ever met someone who is entirely comfortable in their own skin? No pretense. No charades. Not overly confident, but acutely aware of their own faults, weaknesses, and strengths. Let me tell you, I have. And it's utterly unnerving. It's also awe-inspiring and rare. These are the people we feel like we can be our authentic self around. They are invaluable, and we should surround ourselves with them.
In my own life, I have found that it's much more difficult to unlearn something than it is to learn it. But if there's anything in life I want to unlearn, it's that my identity is defined by accomplishments and titles. Instead, it is determined by truths that don't change based on circumstance or behavior.
The truth that I am worthy. I am accepted. I am enough. And so are you. It is only when we begin to believe this at heart level that we can live the authentic lives we were created to live.