You are not the most important thing about yourself

A different approach to the question of identity.

Jon Kratzberg, Staff Writer

It was a frigid fall, just like this one, when I first sat down to write essays for college applications. As I began, one question stared me in the face: “Who are you?” 

Instead of answering this question with my true identity in Christ, I convinced myself to describe myself by what I have done rather than who I am. My search to find activities or achievements that would prove my worth was exhausting. 

By the end, rather than finding consolation and value in what I had done, I was plagued by lies telling me I needed to do more or that I was not enough. Here, we find the danger of defining ourselves by our accolades, forcing our value onto how much we can do, which is ultimately never enough. 

A year later, I believe the answer is not in my achievements or activities, but rather in my title as an heir in Christ Jesus. More specifically, I believe a firmly placed identity can be found solely in Christ — all other things are merely additional factors. 

At Westmont, many clubs and student unions provide spaces for people of similar cultural contexts, religious denominations and hobbies. These groups grant refuge for those who may feel isolated or different and serve a key role in creating community. However, though there are benefits to these unions and clubs, it is easy to make them key aspects of our characters. Once we make these activities central to our identities, we lose the ability to explore differences and build community in humility.

As the fog rolls over campus and students begin to pull out their thicker, warmer clothes, it is worth taking a look at where many of us were a year ago. For some 400 freshmen at Westmont, we were writing college application essays this time last year. In the process of writing these essays, many of us were forced to define ourselves for the first time. 

This journey of describing identity was different for everyone, and some chose to focus on their racial experiences, while others focused on hobbies or groups they had been a part of in high school. Despite the many ways this process took shape, nearly everyone had the same goal: to stand out to get into the college of their dreams.

In reflecting on this process of defining our identities, we need to remember that many of us have not stopped defining ourselves in an attempt to be unique. One way many people try to stand out in college is by presenting themselves in terms of race, gender or sexuality.

Now, we must instantly acknowledge that our racial, historical, genetic, personal and perceived experiences are vastly important to how we think, see, perceive the world and live. The Critical Media Project–at USC Anneberg– reminds us that “given the role our identity plays in the way we experience and accrue power, it’s important to understand the potential obstacles, discrimination, and oppression that some groups experience over others.”

For many people, it is easy to put our challenges or struggles at the forefront of defining ourselves. In all truth, I see why. If you have to work a little harder every day just to get the respect everyone else already has, it’s hard not to think constantly of the weight on your shoulders. However, when we take what we have gone through and make it the truest fact about our beings, we have gone too far. Now, we must move away from letting these discrepancies alone define us.

Even dwelling on our unique experiences will let us down. If I base my identity on how I experience the world, comparison will inevitably creep in. Someone might have a more intense-sounding memory. Or people might not be able to empathize with me without shared common ground.

Harvard writer Michelle I. Gao put it this way: “In a time of such polarization, identity politics makes us close ranks with the like-minded when we need to reach out.” Reaching out fundamentally requires a common ground upon which to reach out. By putting our identities in a highly personal or grouped experience, we eradicate that common ground. 

I’m not saying we should ignore our differences. Rather, we should acknowledge them in their proper place. We are creations of God. On the other hand, how we act, perceive and feel is shaped by factors like race, gender and interests.

Moreover, each of these factors influences each person in varying degrees. These aspects make up vital parts of our personality and how we behave. Don’t push the two together, but don’t separate them too far. Give each its proper place and its proper recognition. 

How do we do this as Westmont students? Put simply: it’s complicated. We need to understand the serious value in student groups like BSU, Adventure Club, ASA, debate, and many, many others.

You should get involved with these groups if you are passionate about it, and maybe even if you’re not. However, the minute you start evaluating yourself based on how well you align with the other people in that union, or how well you are doing in that club, you need to rethink what you are doing.

It’s different for everyone, but if you’re tempted to place your whole identity in an activity, I would challenge you either to leave or make it clear from the beginning that that is not the truth. 

Moreover, stop making “I am” statements about anything other than being a child of God. You are not a member of the Ahh-Men a cappella group. You are a beloved creation who participates in Ahh-Men. The examples go on. This tactic might be the simplest way to keep your identity where it needs to be.

Just as we watch our language for cultural awareness, remember to watch the way you talk about yourself. Don’t speak identity statements over yourself with the temporal or incomplete. You are so valuable. Anything less than being God’s creation is cutting you short. 

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Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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