Do we create our identity?


Taylor Swift shared these thoughts in her commencement speech at New York University:

I know it can be really overwhelming figuring out who to be, and when. Who you are now and how to act in order to get where you want to go. I have some good news: it’s totally up to you. I also have some terrifying news: it’s totally up to you.

The message that we define ourselves is offered as a message of empowerment and freedom. But it seems that even Taylor recognizes that it is actually an overwhelming burden.

This kind of “good news” is, in all honesty, “terrifying.”

It’s easy to critique Taylor, but I’m curious about a deeper question:

Even if we think she’s wrong, don’t we live as if she’s right?

For instance, it seems to me that most people give considerable thought to how they present their identity on social media. Alternatively, some people construct their sense of self by not being on social media. That’s the kind of person they are…

Social media aside, I see a tremendous focus on building an identity through accomplishment. This could be attaining success at work or raising good kids. Or both!

How caught up are we in trying to define ourselves? And what cost are we paying because of it?


I’m trying to decide if I think that how one ‘presents’ and how one ‘identifies’ is the same thing. :slight_smile: That is, we often present ourselves to others in order to be seen and thought of in a certain way. However, often what is beneath that is not an identity but an attempt at an identity…and a waiting for someone else to tell you what you are. What she seems to be saying is that you can’t wait on someone else to tell you, you need to figure it out yourself.

I suppose I agree with her to a certain extent, but I think she – along with our culture…and perhaps us American Christians – leave out a major component of life: collaboration. (I actually haven’t seen the speech, so I don’t know if she touched on this.) No matter how much we think it is, life is not lived in an individual bubble. Some things are ‘totally up to [us]’; others are not. If we want to be a certain way, we will need others’ help. We will need their collaboration…their communal presence and engagement.

And for us Christians, our ultimate and primary collaborator is God. He doesn’t just sprinkle dust on us and change us. He works with us…in us…so that he can then work through us in the community. And he works in us though others. We work together, collaboratively, so that we can all reflect Christ in our unique way.

So, in many ways, it is up to us to choose with whom we collaborate in our journey into deeper being. For the cost of doing it on one’s own is profound loneliness and disconnection.

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More thoughts on this. I sense their connection, but I’m struggling to connect them coherently, so forgive any rambling… :upside_down_face:

I was given Tales of a Country Parish as a birthday gift. It’s a beautiful collection of lockdown reflections written by an Anglican vicar in Wiltshire (UK), Colin Heber-Percy. He ties the question of identity to what – or who – we are when we are ‘unhidden, broken open’. I wanted to share with y’all this excerpt…

Afraid…we’re all…hiding ourselves, hiding from ourselves; we grow shells. An ancient Greek word for ‘person’ is prosopon. It means ‘before the face’, a mask. In Latin, persona literally means ‘that through which sound passes’. To both the Greeks and the Romans, a ‘person’ is a mask, specifically a mask used in the theatre to project a character and a voice on stage. Personhood is performed. And behind the mask, there are only other masks, other performances. Or is there a self, an identity which lies hidden under the dramatis personae, seen only by God?

So, building on what I wrote above, maybe personhood is our presentation. Though, hopefully, it is not always a performance, it is often our first line of defense. But it could be considered to be different – though not completely indistinguishable – from who we are at heart; our identity, say. For how (or who) we are at heart is not often obvious in our presentation.

@Carson mentioned that he sees

I see that same thing…as if accomplishing a goal or ticking a box will make you ___. Fill in the blank. That’s what I mean when I say oftentimes we’re waiting for someone else to tell us who we are. For in accomplishing X, we then wait for others to say not only ‘you are X’, but perhaps ‘you are a good X’. As much as you are creating a persona (a way of presenting and being), does it not also have to be recognized for to be true?

However, ‘the Lord does not see as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Sam. 16:7). The Lord is not deceived by our presentations, thankfully. He goes to our center, our heart. And if we collaborate (or, maybe, cooperate) with Him, freedom is brought to bear on our human-ness. I think we are freed to live creatively, whatever our limitations.

To conclude, Heber-Percy writes,

Our deep identity is not steal-able. It is not performed, not learned, not lived up to, just lived, and lived in the midst of others living.

So our identity is lived out in collaborative community first with God, then the community. I believe there is a creation process within it, but what is being created is not necessarily an identity, but a kingdom.


I’ve watched her commencement speech on youtube. In a sense, it seems to be where we as humans naturally gravitate towards. I could imagine the influence her speech would have on the masses, continuing to further the idea that one’s identify is based on their accomplishments.

Lately the idea of self care and taking life at one’s own pace is also becoming popular, with youtube videos on how to lead a balanaced life. But those also stem on doinh things mainly for yourself, creating a self centered imagine of rest. This is especially common in the asian context whereby your grades accomplishment and age that you’ve accomplished it defines you. Some people I know value going to the gym over church as an example.

At the end of it, changing this mindset comes with lettinh people know of their identity in Christ. Even as Christians we tend to fall back and forget that, therefore it really isn’t easy. However, it does not mean it is not possible to do so with God’s help we can make use of social media to remind people of their god given identity