Students’ activities do not grant them worth and identity; their identity is something else, something more important.
Identity: “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” That is the dictionary definition of identity. When I think of identity, I think of what makes a person who they are. Or in other words, what drives a person’s soul. If you were to ask me what my identity is as a Native American, Black, and white 17-year-old female, I would tell you wisdom, courage, generosity, compassion, truth, honor, and humility. All these virtues are what I pride myself in living by every day. These values make up my identity. If you asked me what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I would tell you I want to be a civil rights lawyer. That’s my future career, not my identity. So why is it that artists, musicians, and athletes believe so genuinely that their identity is solely dependent on their career?
In the article “How to Abandon a Music Career,” Ted Gioia evaluates the idea of why artists feel like their worth is solely based off of their careers. In the article, Mr. Gioia refences a fellow musician who decided to leave his music career. This man’s name is Zach Manzi. In a post, Zach stated, “There were times in my adult life when I literally thought being a musician was the only interesting thing about me. I’d convinced myself I could not give up that identity because then nobody would want me.” Zach put into words exactly what many artists, musicians, athletes, and others believe, that their worth is solely dependent on their ability to perform. People who pursue careers in music and athletics tend to crave outside validation. This outside validation makes them feel as if they are good enough.
Take high school sports as an example. Many kids spend their middle school through high school careers chasing sports validation, being a starter for their team and receiving praise from peers. However, what happens when a kid gets burnt out or realizes that they need a break? They don’t take it because then the once outside validation becomes outside judgement. Mr. Gioia says it best, stating, “it might tarnish your reputation, limit your career, or make you seem weak and ineffective in the eyes of your peers.” Kids feel as if they hold less value to those around them without playing a sport. They fear the outside criticism that would come from what ultimately would be best from them. This leads kids to believe their sport gives more meaning to their life than who they are as a person, feeding the phenomenon that your worth is conditioned on your talents.
However, it is quite the contrary. Your ability to perform does not make you who you are. In a letter to students who asked him to visit their school, writer Kurt Vonnegut supports the mirror idea that with the actives we do–whether it be dancing, singing, acting, painting, drawing, sports, poetry, essays–we should do them to “experience becoming, find out what is inside you, help make your soul grow.” Mr. Vonnegut believes we should participate in hobbies in order to fulfill who we are, not to let the actives become who we are. Later in the letter, Mr. Vonnegut asks the kids to participate in an activity, writing a poem. The students were instructed to write the poem as well as they could, tear it up into little pieces, and discard of it in separate trash cans. Mr. Vonnegut explains to the students that by doing this they have filled their cups, experienced becoming, and ultimately made their souls grow.
Mr. Vonnegut understands that our talents help us grow into who we are. They do not make us who we are. He endorses that identity is not conditional, nor is it dependent on your career. Identity is not about public appearance or the identity your talents bring. It is about the joy one’s talents bring to their identity. Mr. Gioia and Mr. Vonnegut understand that what we pursue in life doe does not make us. Mr. Gioia, Mr. Vonnegut, and I believe and assert that identity is what a person’s soul is made of.
Photo: CIML Track and Field Meet by Phil Roeder on Flickr