Do you have one of those absolutes in your life about your identity? Like, one of mine is that I don’t enjoy winter sports. In the winters in New York we’d sometimes head north to Lake Placid, spend a day or two on Whiteface Mountain, skiing or snowboarding. And after several years of attempting—the ludicrous rental of snowblades, dozens of falls on the bunny hill, excessive frustration at ski pulls, and even the purchase of a snowboard (I wanted to be a snowboarder so badly, but I hated every minute of it), I finally came to the official conclusion: I don’t like winter sports. I have crossed it off on my to-do list, politely decline when people invite me to go skiing, ignore their suggestions that I “try it just one more time.” Nope. I’m done. I am 25 years old, and I have decided that not liking winter sports is a permanent part of my identity.
One of the things I’ve learned about being an adult is that locking into these identities feels like an accomplishment. As though stamping this activity or that dietary choice with approval somehow settles the ground beneath you. I am a vegetarian feminist who hates winter sports therefore… what, exactly? I’m more convinced of my identity? This extensive list of qualifiers (tattooed, writer, short-haired, procrastinator) gives me a sense of self. I suck at ceramics, therefore I am.
I’m not knocking these absolutes—I do think they are extremely valuable to establishing identity, confidence and self. But occasionally, they also prevent us from growing. Just because I’m becoming an adult doesn’t mean I’m becoming permanent. These absolutes, these pieces of my identity I’m writing in stone, lull me into a false sense of security. I am no more settled by saying “I hate green olives.” I am simply deciding to avoid something in my life.
There is nothing inherently wrong with making these decisions. Being the girl in the office who always says no to happy hour because she’s conscious of her budget isn’t really a bad thing. But sometimes, it’s difficult to see the trade-off. Making a decision always limits your options, making choices about who you want to be ultimately means that you aren’t something else. Sometimes I need to be reminded of what I’m giving up.
I will likely never go on a ski trip with friends. I won’t drink peppermint hot chocolate in the lodge, watch the frost crowd the corners of the giant windows, rub my sore hips through my snow pants. I won’t feel the biting chill of the wind against my cheeks, find clumps of snow in my boots when I pry them off, laugh up at the sky with my skis pointing in opposite directions, my tailbone throbbing.
I don’t have a strong desire to experience these things. For me, the trade-off has been evaluated, and I’m ok with what I’m missing out on. But I can’t deny that these missed opportunities, these hypothetical trips through fresh snow, prevent me from learning more about myself and others. I am deciding not to grow in this area. Is it the right decision?
I’ll tell you at the end.