Who are You Exactly? The Strengths of Being All That You Are by Dr. Allyson Maida, LCSW
18 Sep 2019
Who do you want to be when you grow up? What is it, you know, that one thing you want to do? (Hear breaks screeching) What? One thing? Define myself by just - one - thing? If you or someone you care for has been here, don’t panic. Not everyone is born to do or be one thing, nor does everyone hail from one place with one interest and one background.
Speaking of background and foregoing a history lesson, it seems that our world is experiencing its payoff. We are progressing, meaning that for the entirety of its existence, human-kind has worked to expand its framework. Our global efforts to increase insight, tolerance, productivity, and technology in pursuit of betterment is always in motion. Certainly, this does not include those who have not worked for social or industrial inclusion, kindness or justice.
This progress includes a shift of language. For instance, the definition of the word intersectionality is changing. Initially the term addressed the integration of a person or group’s demographic background (such as race and religion). Later, feminism expanded the definition to include social and political gender discrimination (i.e.: poor women are less likely to run for political office due to campaign costs). Forever the indicator of social change, linguistic shifts are on the move again. Now the definition includes the intermingling of everything a person is made up of. Intersectionality provides each of us with context. For example, when Jiwandeep Kohli’s rainbow turban photo went viral on social media during 2019’s Pride Month, his interview included recognition of his intersectionality, “I’m proud to be a bisexual bearded baking brain scientist.” - all of which he is.
This new sense of intersectionality suggests that we are dynamic, can follow a variety of interests and be all that we are. Why are our self-descriptions minimized, downplaying portions of who we are? Why does a person’s primary interest have to be singular? Why can’t a common thread be addressed from different angles? AND why is it that when you do not have a singular approach people immediately assume you are scattered or flakey? So much for the social acceptance of intersectionality.
When I was in 5th grade I found my role model for life; George Plimpton. At the time, I was introduced to his celebrity as a football player, except he was not a football player. He was an investigative journalist (amongst other things) who decided that the best form of research was to learn from the inside and apply that information to what we see on the outside. What was it like to be on the field surrounded by hundreds of screaming fans while simultaneously trying to act upon coaching and decipher the movements of other players?
Grasping that George Plimpton was a journalist and not a football player blew my 10-year-old mind. What else had he done and…then it hit me. This means people can make choices and do all kinds of things! In that one mind-bending moment, I found myself at an intersection. I realized that curiosity is an asset, an adventurous nature is acceptable, intellect can be built upon and new approaches to old situations are fine. In time, I also learned that this is not the road well-travelled, it is not popular, it is strewn with naysayers, the path is rocky and there is a greater social need dictating that the world does not have much room for doing things differently. (Do the words disrupter and outlier ring a bell? I am sure that these words have been coined for the reasons just discussed. It is okay to do things differently.)
People are as different as their individual characteristics and thoughts. There are some people who feel most comfortable learning about different things (whether or not they eventually move toward one specific discipline). There are others who do a myriad of things, some of which they merge along the way, as they find their path to one area of interest. Then there are people who prefer to find a focus and stick with it. None of these things are wrong or better than the next. Each method meets the needs of the person.
Life is complex enough without the pressure of judgments cast upon those who are trying to figure out their next steps. This does not dismiss the notion that people need a focal point. Being spread too thin is never good. There is strength in having a concentrated area of interest. However, it is not a sign of instability when someone realizes that ideas create new ideas, which can become doorways to new topics and opportunities. These expansions fuel exploration and passion.
As a society, we tend to promote opportunities that cause personal and/or professional growth. Yet, when beginning to expand their playing field, people are often told why things will not work and how moving outside of the initial plan is a misdirected use of efforts and resources. Why are we afraid of growth that expands intersectionality? Whether it is intercultural marriage, a change of career or moving to a country where we do not know anyone, there is the prospect for that which we say we support – growth and progress. This advancement requires nurturance and wisdom, not the projection of the basic fears attached to our lack of comfort. Also, think about it, it seems odd that we support our children’s imagination and exploration and then require it to have restrictive boundaries. I do not think George Plimpton would have been as significant to journalism or our world if he was restricted. Imagine restricting Anthony Bourdain, Ellen Degenres, Steve Jobs, Salvadore Dali, Elon Musk, Mozart…you get the point.
We are dynamic, interested, observing and listening and we are created to grow. Nurtured with balance and steady supports (from within ourselves and outside) we are made to be strong. We can know and do more than one thing. You can make the choice to be a trailblazer or have one concentrated area of interest, either of which can be a stabilizing force. Your strength is found in all that makes you who you are. There is as much strength in your intersectionality as there is in a cord of many strands. As the old verse says, a cord of three strands cannot be broken.