Identity is important. Today, people resort to their profession, Myers-Briggs surveys, astrological signs, and a long list of genders to try and find their unique identity. But these pre-fabricated identifiers do not capture our unique blend of interests or experiences, which are two areas that play a large role in defining who we are.
Every person is the main character in their own story. Living out that custom story is the most unique way to live, because each story is being written by the most Unique Being. I intentionally use the present active tense because God is still making you and I. Our lives are the co-creative part when we get to participate in his creation of us. No identity provided by popular society can match the dynamism and fluidity of the character God is creating us to be in our own lifelong epic.
As human persons, we do not receive our dignity or identity from others or even ourselves. God gives them to us. Even if, God forbid, a human person were never given a name by people, he or she would still have a special place and a name in the heart and mind of God. Finding our identity in God is better than coming up with one ourselves or being assigned one by others, because God is the most unique, creative and perfect being of all. When a human person is given a name, it is to signify and celebrate the unique identity the person already has in God. A life spent discovering that unique identity is a life well-lived.
I say all this because in our culture today, there is a growing trend where people to try and change their identity, as if they could make themselves into something that is better and more unique than what God has in store for them. Men want to be women and vice-versa. All we need is the slightest bit of foresight to see the ridiculous trajectory that path puts us on.
If we only knew each person's innate uniqueness, we wouldn't try to change who we are or who anyone else is. God created each person for a specific reason. We are more authentically created than even the angels because each one of us is an unique composite of body, mind and soul. God doesn't clone anyone. We are incommunicable, unrepeatable. Every human being he creates is a new expression of his love, truth, goodness, beauty and creativity.
We may think we have better ideas than God does for who or what we could be, but we don't. God put all of our desires on our heart, and he knows how to fulfill them better than anyone. This may sound like a preposterous restraint on our freedom, but it's actually nowhere close to a restraint. We are imbued with the passion, the motivation, the inspiration, and even some of the powers of the greatest being in all the universe---or in any other universe if they exist. There is no way we could imagine a plan for our lives that is bigger and better than the plan God has already made us to fulfill. Your biggest ideas, your grandest hopes for adventure and fulfillment, all of it is just a piece of what God has in store for your life---no matter what age you may be.
'Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.' - St. Catherine of Siena
"The glory of God is man fully alive." - St. Irenaeus
But we are thwarted at an early age. We are told to pick a major in college pertaining to the profession we are expected to keep for the rest of our careers. We pigeon-hole each other, and stymie creativity through excessive specialization. Not only are we expected to narrow down our interests with a major in college, but we are then expected to specialize further in either graduate school or our job after college, or both. Or we're expected to specialize even further by choosing a doctorate program. This over-specialization has not only stymied our creativity. It has also severed us from all other specializations, making it harder and harder to bridge the gaps between professions the more we specialize. As a result, we live in a fragmented society and have a hard time seeing the big picture.
It's understandable for young people to be frustrated by all of this professional compartmentalization and fragmentation. They are defined by their profession before they really know who they are personally. Relatives will ask them at get-togethers what they do for a living before they've truly found themselves. It makes sense that many of them are trying to defy society's classifications of them, and that some of them take that defiance too far.
Finding Your Niche
We each have something custom to contribute to the world. I tell myself this whenever I'm stuck and don't know what to write: Your unique value is you. The qualities you bring to the table that the world needs are your personality, your perspective, your experiences, what motivates and inspires you. These qualities will start to take on more specific characteristics the more you just express yourself. Then you will start to see the good and the bad, and you can prune away the bad. A solid relationship with God will help with this. No one can tell you who you are and what to do like God can.
I remember once being told a very simple prayer that St. Thomas Aquinas used to pray:
"God, who are you and who am I?"
These are such honest questions. They get to the core of our being. The more we learn about ourselves the more we will learn about our Maker, and the more we learn about our Maker the more we learn about ourselves. The more I search for the answers to those two questions in that prayer, the more I notice how God is the perfect balance between order and spontaneity. Learning how to balance the two in our lives will help us learn more about him and ourselves, and will help us live more like him. The more we live like the Creator, the more creative we will be.
Letting the Mind Wander a Little
I have found that a great way to figure out God's will in my life is by writing down all of my thoughts and looking for his voice somewhere within those words. I then look for themes that are inspired by Scripture or validated by life experiences. But I usually can't find those thoughts unless I let my mind wander, because they're often hidden deep in the forests of my mind beyond my superficial concerns.
"Not all who wander are lost" - Gandalf
While he is the God of order, God is also wild and free. Since we live in a very structured society where all our needs are provided for us, it's sometimes hard to notice God's wild side. He is the God of the celestial dance, but also the God of unpredictable hurricanes. He gave us the structures for the family and the Church, but he also spills all kinds of random colors in a field of wildflowers. He created a relatively precise and structured process for being born, but an infinite number of random ways to die.
God himself is a perfect balance of order and unpredictability. Why would he want his greatest creation to be any different? He is creating each one of us as a unique patchwork of interests, talents, personality, looks, backgrounds, and more. By all appearances to others this patchwork must look quite chaotic. But if we share it enough, people will see that our idiosyncrasies come together to form the most valuable thing we could offer the world: ourselves.
I often sense God calling me to do random things, so I make sure I leave room in my life for those spontaneous calls from him. Allowing randomness into the structured parts of my life allows me to improvise, follow my gut, find my muse, and think outside the box. Those serendipitous solutions usually do not come in an expected, predictable or structured form or manner. They usually come when I open my mind up to the unexpected.
Welcoming spontaneity is also what allows us to accept change. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said "Change is the only constant in life", and the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. God has designed the universe as a paradox; it's in constant flux; the unpredictable change throughout existence is perpetual. For instance, we can never know exactly when the seasons will change, but we do know that they will change. The consistency matters more than the structure. Change is constantly challenging structure to test what is truly consistent. But could we know what truly matters if it didn't work that way?
So when it comes to finding out who God created me to be, the important part is to keep searching. The search ought to be a journey where I consistently get up every day with the determination to discover God's will for me in my life and on that specific day. I follow the Truth, wherever it leads me. I keep pursuing every interest he put on my heart, because I believe they are all part of my search. And I believe the search isn't truly over until I reach heaven where I'll receive the beatific vision.
Being your own niche
This search is too dynamic to be harnessed by a niche, or the sweet spot that combines what you're good at with what you love and what you can get paid to do. In our hyper-commercialized culture, I always hear marketers talk about finding your niche. Some people may say that the niche we choose is just our work or business, and we have other interests and pursuits outside that. I challenge that view, because I believe we are our work, especially as Christians. Therefore, we ought to combine our identity and our work, because separating them just contributes to the fragmentation of our society.
"For what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office, the office is the person. The two are no longer separable. Here there is no private area reserved for an 'I' which remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be 'off duty'; here there is no 'I' separate from the work; the 'I' is the work and the work is the 'I'" - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger( Introduction to Christianity).
If we are what we do, then what we do ought to be as unique, dynamic, and multi-layered as who we are. What we do for a living should not define us. Rather, who we are should determine what we do for a living. And we shouldn't have to choose just one niched interest as a career and leave behind all others, save for maybe one we could keep as a hobby. I think God wants us to share our unique blend of passions with the world. This is where we need to challenge society's structure though, because society wants us to just choose a niche and stick to it.
I see a countless amount of companies, social media influencers, and YouTube channels devoted to one specific purpose, and I often wonder what would happen if they simply tried to branch off into something else. Perhaps it would mean disaster for them; if they've developed an audience based on their niche, that audience would probably lose interest. But if they started sharing all of their interests, experiences, etcetera from the beginning, perhaps the audience they attract would be as unique as they are.
I believe we don't need to choose a niche to be successful. Our niche can be our unique blend of interests, not just the most effective way to market ourselves or our company. Why would we want to reduce ourselves to such a superficial, monetary existence?
Let me just try it. If I were my own niche, that niche would look something like this:
Interests: Writing, Catholic Christianity, football, gaming, country music, road trips, real estate
Background: Lived in NJ most of my life, mix of Irish, German, English, and Italian
Life story: Born in suburbs of New York City/North Jersey, studied liberal arts at a small Catholic college in Ohio, worked in construction and property management, lived on a farm for 10 years, started a magazine and blog called Rambling Spirit at age 27, dove into real estate 10 years later, now trying to bring together this crazy disconnected life.
Talents: Writing. I don't claim to have any other.
Whatever else makes me who I am: I'm a rambler, a gambler and a seeker. I'm always testing limits because I always think there is something more to life, existence, who we are and who we are meant to be.
Sure, this looks like a dating profile. But why should we limit this concept to social media and dating sites? Why not build a whole platform around who we are? We don't need to depend on our culture's narrow-minded categorizations.
Your niche doesn't even have to make sense at first. It just has to be you going wild being you. If your unique personality comes out in everything you do, people will notice and appreciate it. Then it will all start to make sense to them. They'll see that the embodiment of all your random idiosyncrasies is you. I like that word, "idiosyncrasies", to describe what I mean because the goal is to sync together everything we are. As you form your own platform comprised of your own ideas and interests, you will find kindred spirits and may even form an environment or platform where you can all work together with mutual appreciation of each other's unique and valuable contributions.
You've heard of TV and radio "personalities". They haven't just formed their own platforms. They are their own platform. They can share whatever ideas they want because they built a strong platform out of their very name and personality. This has given them the ability to be their own niche.
In those moments when the world isn't helping, do it your way. The world will thank you for it because it needs more creativity. If we all saw the natural uniqueness and creativity in each person, including ourselves, we wouldn't want to be anyone other than who God is making us to be.
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