YOU ARE NOT ALONE. That’s what everyone says, yet here we are stuck in place trying to figure out who we are and where we stand in society. It’s kind of crazy to think that out of 8 billion people, we are all SO different, isn’t it? Have you ever contemplated what it means to be the unique person you are? Pretty darn cool if you ask me! Anyway, this post is going to be about identity, specifically how people find themselves and their purpose. Whether you define yourself by your pronouns, by your profession, by your ethnicity or class structure, by your dreams and goals, you look at yourself a certain way- NOW, as you read this, I challenge you to look at yourself specifically as an architect (a conceptual builder) and all your life experiences, emotions, and knowledge as building blocks. Perhaps, by the end, you will see yourself in a different light. A better light.
Hear the podcast version HERE!
Thesis: All of our life experiences shape the way we identify ourselves and therefore shapes the way we identify with humanity. Whether the research supports this or not, that's up to you to decide!
Where does identity come from?
To start off on our exploration of how we get our identities, I wanted to take a look at how other people have come to define identity throughout history. From inventors, leaders, scientists, crafters, many people have considered this question and inevitably developed answers themselves. I’ve analyzed a couple different studies, summarizing the basic information to gain a broader understanding based off of multiple ideations.
The concept of identity does not have a definitive answer or origin, rather, certain studies have been done to understand behavior and its effect on identity making us the people we are today. In a study done by Scientific American, genetically identical mice were analyzed to see how their brains develop and if being in the same environment would ultimately develop the same mouse across the board. After 3 months of observing and tracking mice and movement, the scientists were able to conclude that some mice had a greater sense of roaming entropy- a term developed for one’s compulsion to wander and explore. The difference in movement between mice who’d typically wander vs those who didn’t stemmed from neurological changes that evolved- stimuli for say- that went off in the brains which increased the amount of neurons. Although born with a similar neuron count, mice have a certain amount of ‘potential neurons’ that some mice ‘unlock’ and some do not. This addition of new neurons is both the cause and effect of exploratory behavior as in the moment the mouse strayed from the pack the first time, the potential neurons held in their brain began developing into a greater sense of intelligence correlating into greater diversity.
Within this experiment there were a lot of holes, but it does make you question if the same thing applies to humans on a larger scale? Is the desire to explore, to love, to create is a trait that we’re born with (something we stumble on along our path of life) or merely something we are taught?
Another way to understand our identity is to look at the science behind society. Whether it be the IQ tests, a ratio invented by William Stern identifying ones mental capacity through tests divided by their age to produce a number defining intelligence in the 1910’s, or more modernly the analyzation of our genetics and combination of the 23 chromosomes we possess based on who we come from, there is so much more that backs up our identity than simply understanding behavior.
Behavior and genetics all contribute to our personal identity, but how about emotions- why do we feel what we feel and can that have a direct way we identify ourselves. All of our emotions stem from the frontal lobe. According to Healthline, emotions are all controlled by our Hypothalamus, Hippocampus, Amygdala, and Limbic Cortex. All emotional responses stem mostly from the Amygdala which helps to comprehend a situation. Different emotions invoke different responses using different parts of our brain. For example, fear and anger come from the initiation of our flight or fight response. Our Hypothalamus is notified by our Amygdala in order to respond to external stimuli. Sometimes this response is increasing blood sugar, sometimes it’s heart rate, but it’s interesting how that response toward things we donate as fear and anger uses different parts of our brain than that which stimulates happiness and peace. People who are known to be happier- see the glass half full- have a greater amount of gray matter in their right precuneus. The precuneus is where we retrieve and store our memories, so everytime we feel that warm feeling of joy it stems from our precuneus working with our limbic cortex to impose “motivation and judgment.” Overall, the way our body reacts to experiences is all in the sciences- how you remember or recall that event stems from the feelings it made you feel; were you nervous, excited, afraid, happy? By observing how your specific body reacts to different situations you can better understand why you do what you do and feel what you feel.
How does Identity relate to purpose?
Before we go onto the factual information, I want to tell you a story- a quick little story about my spring semester 2021. It was my last year in high school, minding my own business searching for scholarships to apply to for college, for we all know how much college costs, and I was nervous. I stumbled upon this website, Global Citizen Year, and long story short ended up applying/ being accepted into their online Academy program. NOW, it was at the height of covid precautions which was why everything was online, but this amazing program had us kids from all over the world learning about leadership. It was fascinating to hear people’s stories- understand their unique perspectives on critical issues. Every week was about a different aspect of character, identity, collaboration, and purpose. Personally, I am still finding my purpose in life, but it went through exercises examining aspects and experiences we have gone through in our lives- how those experiences shape who we are and our story. NEAT SKEET. I want you all to go back and think about your life from the very first memory you have to now- what stands out, what stories resonate in the back of your head and do they have lessons to them defining your values? I know the way I see the world is much like a game of soccer (as I played for 15 years) through teamwork making dreamswork and hard work you will never be perfect but you will find success and happiness through those around you. But whether it be your entrepreneurial spirit, passion for activism, commitment to a project, whether you want them to or not, our experiences help to create who we are: Our story- our purpose.
In an article by Psychology today, Dr. Shahram Heshmat analyzes how who we are affects our purpose and vise versa. He mentions two types of people in which we all fit: fulfilled and unfulfilled persons. For a while this has been part of the larger mental health problem generationally because we are all constantly trying to please our parents, our friends, the people around us. Growing up, most of society looks at the people who raised them wanting to live the life they believe their role models would be proud of instead of the one they would find true happiness in. Whether that be adopting values from those older than them, maintaining a fancy job title, education, within each family it’s different. So now back to fulfilled vs unfulfilled. Stripping away all external stimuli, all external opinion, whether society looks at something positive or negatively, you need to meditate with yourself, decide what are your values, what brings you true happiness, for understanding what drives your passion and what you believe in- only then will you find a true sense of fulfilled purpose.
You must understand too, your parents went through so many things you never have experienced shaping them into who they are- sure they learned lessons, but you didn’t go through what they went through- you need to absorb their knowledge, but remain open minded as the situations you go through are just as important in shaping who you are and where your purpose lies in life. Maybe you haven’t done everything you want to do, maybe you’re mind is calling you to try something new- paint a mural, travel the world, according to Heshmat it is in the ‘trial and error’ we experience stepping out of our comfort zone that generates the neurons in our brains to configure what we like and don’t, what we value and don’t value, where our purpose is regardless of what others tell us.
There’s a quote by Mother Teresa, “When you don’t have anything, then you have everything.” It is a quote that can be interpreted in a number of ways, but in our case it reminds me of the people we are- strip away the materialism, the judgements, the world around so that it’s just you- bring that soul to the surface, for you intrinsically have everything you need to chase your passion- chase your dreams, and find your purpose. It’s your life and only your opinion of where you want to go with it. People may speak different languages, they may come from different backgrounds, yet the one thing that you simply need eyes to see or ears to hear is passion. When purpose is instituted, passion comes out in tone, in mood, in expression- as a powerful force, passion inspires love regardless of all else- and love shapes identity.
Can our identity change?
Our identity changes as we experience different things everyday. We generally hear the saying we are different people than we were yesterday because the person we are today has 24 hours more of knowledge than yourself before. Not to mention the constant the trial and error- constantly evaluating what you like and don’t like whether you realize you’re doing it or not.
One way of understanding this scientifically is looking at our eyes- we absorb light through our eye muscles which then travels through our optical neve developing the pictures we see everyday. They are transferred to the brain’s primary cortex, specifically the occipital lobe in the back of the head where objects and locations are memorized and stored.
In a study done by Salk Institute, the way we memorize was put into question as there are some aspects currently unknown, but for our case it is shown that people memorize edges and how the edges of objects create volume to an object. The way our eyes capture images, the study also found that there is a suppression of light in the objects 90º away from where the subject’s focus fell which they coined ‘cross-orientation suppression.’ And lastly, the study found that the way our brain perceives textures creates patterns that we hold in our head like swatches on a palette.
Y'all are probably wondering where I’m going with this, and it is that yes. Our identity can change- the principles of how we perceive things are absorbed in similar ways, but using that information is vastly different as these images work with the Amygdala, the Hippocampus, the Precuneus, our brain takes in all the sites, the sounds, the smells, and similar to how we take in light, our nerves carry this information to our brain. Like a puzzle the pieces fit together and we decide if it provokes a feeling of joy, anger, relief, pain, feeling. What causes you to feel something today may be different than what we feel tomorrow because the conditions we are put in are different- the weather is never the same.
Looking at this vast array of information, It honestly comes down to who you are and how much you are willing to let go of what is around you to be honest with yourself about the hard questions. I ask myself daily what my purpose is, and why do I do what I do, and I can never get a straight answer, but that’s okay. I know my heart is pulled to share art with as many possible, help others through inspiring creativity, and making the world a better place through embracing the diversity in passion that we each possess. A passion to heal, a passion to innovate, a passion to create, a passion to analyze, a passion to unite, a passion to build, a passion to educate, a passion to lead- you need to find all the things that truly bring you passion and you cant be confined to a box because as a society we were built to be unique. So many people grow up leading unfulfilled lives because they just go and do what everyone tells them to do, but you are so much bigger than other people’s opinion. Take risks; Shoot for the stars and land on the moon, shoot for the universe and you just might find something far greater than you’ve ever known to have existed.
You are so full of potential, so use what your god has given you to find your purpose because it’s there, I promise you if you are patient enough, it is there pounding in your heart, scouring through your veins, and living in the experiences defined by your brain.
So I say again, you are not alone. On a quest to find yourself, welcome to a world of 8 billion people doing the same thing. Hopefully this helped give you some insight into the world around you- empowered you to take a step back and recognize all your hidden potential. You are so very special, don’t let anyone tell you any different!
With lots of love,