When I was growing up the biggest dream I had was to get married and have children. I truly thought that I would have either four or six children and I would home-school them. That I would be the most amazing natural earth-mother that ever there was.
Well I was super fortunate (can I say #blessed?) to meet my man in high school and to get married shortly thereafter. We had one child and while I loved being a mum, the whole motherhood thing wasn’t quite as effortless for me as I thought it would be. After the second baby I was done with pregnancy and babyhood. No more kids for me. And anyone who knows me now laughs with me at the thought that I would be home-schooling. I am very grateful for my kids, don’t get me wrong! I love them deeply and I like them as people too. They taught me so much, and one of the big lessons was that I was not emotionally able to stay at home and look after children all my life.
After a bit of a struggle with depression I chose to go to university and study. I loved it! Uni was my thing! I enjoyed the learning, enjoyed the study (and the built in breaks) and I did well. Academic life suited me and I started to dream of an academic career. I looked back at my heroes – people like C.S. Lewis and Tolkien whose lives revolved around the research and teaching, and I loved robing up for the graduation ceremonies and being able to pretend I was somewhat of the same ilk.
So once again I had found what I wanted to do with my life! I wanted to stay at uni all my life and teach and research. Chemistry was my thing. I knew what I wanted and I went for it. I would tell people that I was a ‘stay-at-home-mum with a career woman hidden inside’. Finishing off the PhD was difficult – there was a huge emotional toll in presenting 3 years worth of work for examination. But I managed, and after that, well, I knew I wanted to work in research and in teaching at university level.
I started to push for a long-term position in a university, preferably the university in Hobart where I live. I traveled to Sydney four times a year for four years in order to get experience in a different university from the one I where I studied and graduated. I applied for funding to start my own research group and waited nine nail-biting months to find out that I didn’t get it. I looked at positions available at the university here in Hobart and found there were none.
I started to understand that realising my goal of becoming a tenured university lecturer would require from me sacrifices that I was unwilling to make. I realised that I would have to uproot my family and travel, probably overseas. I would have to say goodbye to the home I loved and my husband would have to say goodbye to his secure employment and we would have to gamble on getting funding in the university system to support my research. It took a while but in the end I felt like the sacrifices were too much and I let the dream of professorship go.
But I had built my identity on that dream and I wasn’t sure then what my identity was. My identity had changed from stay-at-home-mum to academic and now it was changing again. To what?
That was when I turned to writing. I started to dream of earning a living by writing novels. I started to research what was involved in writing and to read wonderful writing books like ‘The Art of Slow Writing’ by Louise DeSalvo. I read about how it is important to write a daily journal if you want to be a writer (check! I’ve done that since grade 10) and how important it is to read, and read widely (another big check – reading is my love). I read about how good it is to take notes on what you’re reading (something I had wanted to do but hadn’t given myself permission). Once I called myself a writer and started to collect notebooks and pens and sticky notes and to set up my office downstairs so that I had ‘a room of my own’, I felt like a writer. I decided I was a writer. I had a new identity.
It is very tempting to say that finally, FINALLY, I have found the thing for which I was put on this earth. But, you know, I don’t think I have. I have found something that I really enjoy doing, something that makes life feel a lot more fun. Writing is a puzzle piece that was missing from my life and writing has made my life more full and joyous. I hope that my writing gives others encouragement and joy, and when my novel finally gets published I hope it speaks to people’s lives. But ‘the thing’? My new identity? No, I don’t think so.
All my identities have been what I have been put on the earth to do. Including the identities I haven’t mentioned so far like being a sister, a daughter, and a friend. It would be easy to look at C.S. Lewis and say that he was put on this earth to write his wonderfully clear books but that would be disrespecting his life as an academic, his input into his students, the lectures he gave, the support he gave to his brother and his other friends, and the husband and step-father that he was. The same with Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings has lived on after him, but writing that great work was only one piece of his life. He had work and family and church. There were many things he was put on this earth to do – not just write.
The psychologist Dr Bruno Cayoun says that our identities change throughout our lives and if we accept that, and stop expecting things to stay the same, then our lives are much easier. All my life I have been looking for the job, the position, the identity that was “me”. I would go for something and enjoy it for a while and then something would change and I’d say, ‘oh, actually, it looks like that’s not “me” after all.’ And I’d go looking again.
Now as I look back I see that all of it – the mothering, the studying, the researching, the teaching – all of it was and is part of “me”. Who I am is changing all the time as circumstances change and as I grow and mature. My identity has changed as I’ve grown and that is a good and right thing to happen.
And I think that what we do is not as important as how we do it. That our character is more important even than our identity. So, my take home message today for me is that I will keep doing what I’m doing – keep mothering, wifing, lecturing, tutoring, dancing, churching and writing. I will work on my character as I do all that. And I will keep trying to be what I’m put on this earth to be. And hopefully I’ll find joy in the changes, the growth, and in every part of my identity.