On Identity

Every performing musician has his or her pre-show ritual. For some it’s stretching backstage or practicing solos. For some it’s sleeping or listening to a song to get in the mood. As embarrassing as this may be, I’d imagine myself as my favorite musicians. Though I don’t play shows anymore, I find the ritual still at work in my life. Whenever I’m asked to speak somewhere I imagine myself as my leaders, using the same terminology and mannerisms, hearing their voices in my head. When I’m on campus I’m my old staff worker, trying to project vision with the same enthusiasm.  I’ve become an amalgamation of my heroes. 

Not too long ago I took a missionary assessment to help me recognize my strengths, weaknesses, and areas of growth. One thing that came out was that at the ripe age of 23 my identity is still forming.

So much of my life has been spent trying to be other people. I’m a chameleon, able to blend in with whatever group happens to be around me. This works both to my benefit and detriment. Benefit because God’s gifted me with the ability to see the beauty in mostly everyone and a desire to share that with them, if not emulate it in some fashion. Detriment because sometimes it means picking up their negative qualities as well. Detriment because it almost always means seeing myself as lesser.

If I’m honest, while part of me exemplifies the behavior of my predecessors because it’s how I learned something, part of me does it because I don’t believe who I naturally am is good enough. Somehow hiding in the armor of my heroes makes me better (or so I tell myself) but more often than not it seems contrived.

Back in high school one my closest friends would intentionally be mean to girls as a way of flirting. The crazy thing was that it worked. Even girls he didn’t like would develop feelings for him. I, on the other hand, would try and would find myself doing damage control later. I could pretend to be him, but I wasn’t him. It’s like when we were children and we’d wonder why everyone else got away with stuff but we always got in trouble. It’s taken me 23 years but I think I finally got it: it’s because we weren’t everyone else. We’re different and that’s okay. The pitfalls of our leaders/peers don’t have to be ours as well. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be yourself.

If there’s one thing I’m most grateful for it’s that Cayman has forced me to become my own person. Rather than hiding behind the gifts of particular people, I’ve had to step out and learn what I’m good at and, in the process, discover how God’s grace is sufficient in my weakness. He says I’m enough and that matters so much more than the lies I tell myself. Growing up is about learning who you are and who you are not. 

I’m not C.S. Lewis. I’m not Andrew McMahon. I’m not Brian Sanders, Jeremy Stephens, Brad Everett, or Joshua Haupt (although they are all remarkable individuals I’m profoundly shaped by). I am Tomy. Granted I still have a long way to go before I fully embrace that, I’m closer than I was before.


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