I spent a lot of my senior year of high school thinking about identity. I was a runner and captain of the cross country team, and I thrived on living up to that definition.
Senior year, I placed 6th in our state meet with a personal record time. Unfortunately, though I was quick for a small school Louisiana girl, I was far behind any national times that would make me competitive in college.
Still, I clung to my runner identity. I wanted to compete in college, and only one of my options was a D1 where I could walk on to the cross country and track team. I enrolled there.
One of my first races was a 5k on an indoor track (that’s 3.1 miles around a 200 meter track…25 laps). I ran the best time of my life, and after being lapped at least twice by every other runner, crossed the finish line dead last.
I continued running and ran in almost every meet that first year. Not because my times were improving, but because in order for our team to score points, we needed 14 girls to start a race. I became a number – it didn’t matter whether I finished a race so long as I stepped over the starting line at the gun.
It took a year for me to cope with the fact that I wasn’t a good runner in the context of college. But when I finally decided to quit, my coach encouraged me to stay on and asked if I’d ever considered another event.
I hadn’t. What other event did he have in mind? Hammer throw.
Needless to say, I left the team and didn’t look back. And the next year I ran a marathon. I was still a runner.
As graduation nears and final college decisions are due, you’re preparing to say goodbye to your friends and teachers. You’re also preparing to say goodbye to the identities you’ve lived for the past four years. Even if you hold onto yours, like I did, the meaning of it will change. Every identity exists only within its context. As you make your final college decisions, you are in control of choosing your next context. And by doing so, you choose how you define yourself and your future.
You can choose to hold on to what you don’t want to leave behind. But you can also leave behind the undesirable identities that have been given to you without your permission. You can redefine; you can make mistakes.
So as you cope with the imminent changes and the letting go, embrace this choice. It’ll make the goodbyes less bitter and much more sweet.