Widgets Magazine

On claiming identities

Recently, I attended a writing colloquium on Stanford campus. As I settled into a hard-backed chair and looked around at the fellow attendees, I was immediately intimidated.

The room was full of writers who had come to the colloquium to learn and discuss. They looked like, well, writers. Many sported wide-framed glasses, some with edgy piercings, tattoos or haircuts. A young twenty something woman sat next to me, writing notes in a leather notebook, scrawling beautifully in calligraphic font. As I looked around me, I wondered why I felt intimidated by a room full of what looked like very nice people.

As I pondered this question later, I realized that much of my feelings of being overwhelmed stemmed from the fact that I’ve never really felt comfortable claiming the identity of a “writer.” I don’t know where this discomfort stems from. Even though I’ve loved to write for most of my life, I’ve never felt comfortable calling myself a writer. When I personally hear the word “writer,” I immediately think of literary greats and their works, and it feels wrong to use the same term for myself that I use to refer to writers whose books sit in thousands of libraries across the world.

What makes us comfortable claiming an identity? Recently I was talking to a friend who is a CS major at Stanford, and she expressed to me that she at times feels weird claiming the title of a “CS Major” when there seem to be so many more qualified people also majoring in CS. She acknowledged that it was silly to feel hesitant to claim a title just because others might come into the major with more qualifications. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparison: If claiming a certain title means that you fall into the same bucket as some mega-talented and accomplished individual, it can be intimidating to confidently say that you belong there too.

When I was in elementary school, one of my favorite (admittedly cliché) quotes was “A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms” (Zen Shin). While this philosophy is beautiful, it’s admittedly difficult to employ in your everyday life. We compare constantly, a theme engrained in our popular media. Magazines bombard us with questions about “Who wore it better?”, Jeopardy contestants compete to see who knows more facts about the world, and reality television shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette actively pit men and women against each other to “compete” for the star of the season. Comparison is difficult to escape.

However, I think it becomes problematic when we allow comparison to get in the way of how we identify ourselves. Not taking on the identity of a “writer” simply because I feel that there are more talented writers that are more deserving of that title is silly, just as avoiding proclaiming your major because others in that major appear to be more accomplished undermines your own passion. While it’s important to be humble and acknowledge that we can learn from those that are better than us in a given field, it’s also important to validate our own identities and remember that “the greats” started out just like us.

So the next time you feel intimidated to claim an identity, have more confidence in yourself. Be proud of the things that you’re passionate about.  

 

Contact Julie Plummer at jplummer ‘at’ stanford.edu.