I am not confused about my own identity. I know who I am. And I am not confused by the identity with which society places on me. I know people’s general perceptions of me—the good and the bad—and where I apparently fall in certain social constructs.
So my problem with identity is not with my personal identity—how I see myself—or my social identity—how others see me.
My problem with identity is when my personal identity and my social identity do not align. When I know what defines me, what makes me unique, who I am, and at the same time know who society knows me to be, but I see that those two identities are different. That the way people see me is not who I am.
I shouldn’t care. I shouldn’t care what the world thinks of me if I really know who I am.
But, guys, saying I don’t care what other people think is like saying I don’t eat unhealthy foods. I hate admitting it, I wish it weren’t true, I’m working on it, but I do. I do eat unhealthy foods from time to time. I do care what people think.
We shouldn’t. We should be comfortable in our own skin, confident in the fact that we are unique and have so much to offer.
But deep down inside, we care. Hopefully not too much, and hopefully less and less each day. But, unfortunately, still a bit nonetheless.
We care because we want other people to like us.
Actually, we want others to love us.
That’s the entire idea of Birthdays: an excuse to be loved incessantly for one day every year.
And, yesterday, on my Birthday, I felt very, very loved.
Which made me realize that love and identity go hand and hand.
We feel the most loved when we see and are told that our personal identity aligns with our social identity. When people love us for who we really are, not for our accomplishments, or our interests, but instead for our personality, our character, presence, our uniqueness. When people love us for the things that we value in ourselves.
I felt loved yesterday not because people told me Happy Birthday (Though it was very sweet!). No, I felt loved yesterday because people followed their Happy Birthday with words of affirmation about who I am as a person.
These words weren’t the simple compliments, like about my performance, appearance, abilities, or interests. The compliments were deeper, about my character and the way in which I live my life. They validated that the good I try to see in myself is sometimes seen by other people, too.
And that is so beautiful.
For example, someone could easily say they love my blog. It would mean a lot to me, and I’d also shake my head in disbelief that you find my rambling somehow good ;), but saying that you appreciate the emotion behind the words I write would mean even more. Someone yesterday told me, “I love your honesty and commitment to vulnerability.” This left a lasting and empowering impact because those are intangible, complex, emotional qualities that are at the heart of what makes me me. Because, though I am honored that you love my blog, a year ago I didn’t have a blog. But I was still me.
Think about the best compliment you’ve ever received.
If the compliment was about your appearance, it wasn’t along the lines of, “wow, you look so nice today!” It was more, “Wow, your smile lights up a room.”
If it was about your abilities, it wasn’t along the lines of, “Wow, you’re so good at tennis.” It was more, “Wow, you are such a determined and hardworking player whose love for the sport is so obvious in every serve.”
If it was about your passions, it wasn’t along the lines of, “Wow, that’s so cool that you’re interested in changing the world!” It was along the lines of, “Wow, I am inspired by that fiery look in your eyes that shows just how much you want to change the world.”
The best compliment you’ve ever received meant more to you because it had depth. It showed that the person saw you for who you really are, not for what you’ve accomplished or for anything you’ve had to earn. The person loved you for being you.
If you want to make people feel loved, you have to KNOW them. Know who they really are, and tell them how much you appreciate them for each unique quality that makes them them. The surface-level compliments are cliché and ephemeral.
You don’t want to be fleetingly loved for some quality everyone has; you want to be loved infinitely and for who you uniquely are.
The best way to receive that kind of love, that is deeper and more sincere, is to give that kind of love.
Make someone’s day by telling her she has beautiful eyes. But tell her that her way of looking at the world through those beautiful eyes is unique and inspiring, and she will feel loved for who she really is and will return that love tenfold to the people around her.
I want everyone to feel the way I felt yesterday. And the way for that to happen is for us to move away from the surface-level compliments to the deeper, more identifying ones. And for us to realize that the only way people can give you those deeper compliments is for you to show them who you really are.
I can’t tell you that you’re the strongest person I know until I know your most difficult struggles. I can’t tell you that your laugh puts everyone at ease if you’re too afraid to let loose and show that emotion.
I can’t give you the love you want until I know you.
Let people know you by vulnerably telling them who you really are. Not what you’ve accomplished or who you’re supposed to be. Who you ARE. So you can be loved. With love that’s empowering and infinite. And with love that will allow you to see the beauty in yourself and in those around you.