Monocycle: Episode 53
Outgrowing Your Identity
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Have you started listening to this week’s episode of Monocycle yet? I’m listening to it now as I write this intro and want to ask that you disregard the way I’m inflecting in the first 20 or so seconds of the episode. I don’t know why my voice is doing that thing! I sound so phony. Baloney. But maybe that is exactly apropos given this week’s topic: ~identity~ (I know, when is it ever not about identity, right?). But the thing I keep coming back to as I listen and remember how I was feeling and what I was thinking when I recorded this fucker earlier in the week is the below scene from a movie that truly and devastatingly slipped under the Academy Award’s radar.

I don’t know either! A lot of what I argue in the episode pertaining to the question of whether you can outgrow your identity has to do with clothes because I imbue so much of who I am into what I wear (I wrote a piece last week that dealt with some of this). I have insofar not come to any eye-opening conclusions; the best I have done is suggest that I just hang in. Don’t make any crazy changes — cut my hair, cancel people from my life, completely eliminate the contents of my closet from my wardrobe, etc. If you’re in an emotional flux that is similar, maybe we can not do anything together.

This episode of Monocycle is edited by Nicholas “Quazzy” Herd. Logo illustration by Kelly Shami. Photo by Edith Young. 

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  • ea1988

    I really appreciate this and can relate. About a year ago, I was having what I like to call a “phase of no goals.” For so long, I was constantly moving from one goal to the next: high school, college, job, grad school, moving moving moving. Once I had been settled in the place and the job that I had sought all those years to achieve, I started feeling RESTLESS. Starting to wonder who am I and what did I just spend all the first 27 years of my life doing? Naturally I tried to start changing all aspects of my life to fix this unidentified issue – find a new apartment, look for jobs, go back to school (?!), move cities, etc etc etc. The thing was that I couldn’t figure out what route to take. My infinitely wise mom finally, in so many words, told me to CHILL THE FUCK OUT. Ride it out. Commit to do nothing/keep doing what you’re doing. Of course I still feel the itch for change every now and then, but I’m so glad I listened to her and resolved to chill. It was a hard cognitive shift to make but sometimes the best route is the one you’re on.

  • Katie

    Hi Leandra! I’d love to see a story (or podcast), either by you or the rest of the Writers, on how to lift yourself out a personal/mental/emotional funk. I’m not sure if you or any other MR writers have some tips/tricks, but I would really appreciate reading your thoughts and advice!

    • Slushee

      Take action. Do something that resembles a decision – good brain trick for motivation.

    • Adrianna

      I’ve learned that doing a physical activity, such as hiking, helps me tremendously. More than Headspace apps and writing lists. I learned this about myself when my grandfather died. I didn’t feel better until I biked 20 miles around New York City.

  • gracesface

    I think everyone feels this way at some point. I totally think you can outgrow your identity.

  • Jamie Leland

    From a fellow (nearly) 27-year-old, I feel you, Leandra. I’m going through a similar phase where, exactly like you said, the things I know about myself aren’t exactly applicable to who I am now. And, like you, those changes have been partially manifesting in how I dress. I have so many relics of my former self in my closet that I love, but they don’t feel like me anymore. That change has coincided with a change in my values and, more importantly, how I live up to those values. I too feel like I’m finally growing into the label of “woman” whereas “girl,”until very recently, felt so much more appropriate. I felt stagnant for a long time and I finally feel like I’m shedding the skin of my former self and becoming someone more whole.

    I don’t know what the answer is for you, but maybe just let yourself be blank for a while. Let go of the things that no longer apply and look outside yourself. Don’t worry about who you are or who you were and pay attention to what inspires you and what bores you. One thing that’s common among “outdoorsy” women is a desire to find out who you are when you’re completely alone. To do that, many women choose to swallow their fears and head out into the wilderness solo. It gives them the opportunity to discover how self-reliant they can be and escape and disprove societal ideas and expectations of women – what they’re capable of, how they should live, etc. Maybe its time to try something you’ve always wanted to do, know you’re capable of doing, but have been afraid to? I have no idea what that would be for you, but it’s something to consider.

  • Lil

    I can so relate. After finishing school, landing my dream job, and building several fulfilling relationships; I’ve felt so listless.
    I even spontaneously changed my hair from black to platinum blonde. I’ve gotten an entirely brand new wardrobe. I’m thinking of moving to NY where I don’t know a single soul.

    Plus what makes things more dramatic is that it’s a change of self. And in this crazy world we’re taught that the one thing that we can control is our own identity… I’m still a little on edge, but on the bright side it kind of feels like I’m finally transitioning from a girl/college kid to a woman.

  • Daniela

    This exact shift , or whatever we gonna call it, is happening to me for the last 3-4 months. The clothing thing, I realized , is just the most visible thing of all of the other changes that are happening, so its picturing this inside shifting. I am in my late 20s , long term relationship, nothing changed a lot on my personal opinion of myself for the past 6 years… and suddenly it just started so naturally… and I am exited about it.. i am gonna go with the flow. And I fill it’ll do a lot of good. Just connect with it and get rid of the things that are not connected to You anymore, even if it just clothes. I did it and it feels so right.:)

  • Slushee

    With you. My identity is so closely tied to what I wear, and manifests through it, that when I can’t find my look – I know that something else is going on. It’s my moment to step back and let the dust settle. And not shop!
    After years of being a scruffy little girl, I’m suddenly coming in strong on what I’m calling ‘nonchalant sexiness’. I’m ready to be there – to be womanly – my ward-dentity tells me so. So listen to your ward-dentity!

  • Ellen Johnston

    Same, Leandra, same. I’m currently stuck in a rut. Something that defined who I was for most of my life I realized isn’t really my thing, and I feel as if I’m stuck in adult puberty helI, or the doldrums that are the early twenties. I want things to change, but they just aren’t. So yeah. Definitely joining you on the not doing anything and chilling.

  • Lisa

    Thanks Leandra for being so honest – I totally feel you. The fact that you just give voice to your feelings and thoughts is one of the reasons I love MR so much!

  • Hannah Betts

    Like you, I have always maintained that self-presentation is a source of self-identity, creativity, and joy. Ornamentation rituals are an ancient and fundamental part of our humanity. I self-decorate therefore I am etc etc. (I’m also a journalist so I’ve lived this in print as in person.)
    Anyway, today is my first day back from a week’s badly-needed holiday and I am pathetically eager to maintain that glorious, relaxed, mind-expansive feeling one comes back with.
    It strikes me that an inadvertent social media detox played a part – much as I imagine I love it – and definitely occupying my brain with something else (capital A Art) to get that all-important flow thing happiness gurus go on about.
    But, then, this morning, I wondered – not for the first time – whether I don’t use my obsession with continual new hits of sartorial pleasure as a way of distracting myself from Real Happiness, whatever the fck that is? Constant mini hedonic highs that prevent me from working on the Big Picture (again: is there such a thing?)
    Of course, two hours off the plane, I was already clickin’ into the void/basket, and, right now, I feel a need to check all is well in the local Zara. But, what if I embraced a period of fast? Forced myself to find new, potentially more lasting pleasures? Take on said void?
    Send a team armed with tranquilliser guns if I become one of those less-is-more types.
    By the by, I’m 46. Does Saturn keep returning?

  • Hannah Betts

    PS On the other hand, toying with sartorial pleasures was also such a joyous part of the aforementioned holiday.

  • This is exactly why I typed into my browser. The 28-year-old version of myself needs to read his way back to recognition. Anyone have books / essays / articles – whatever – for words to bridge our way out of these funks?

  • Dr-Shimeca Videau

    Outgrowing your identity is a real thing! I am in my own transformation that feels unlike another time in my life or in my spiritual growth journey. Things that once made since no longer. I read a quote that read, ” Evolving involves Eliminating” which reflects my current state of being. I am eliminating the non-essential and trying to keep what is only essential in my life and that is aligned with my purpose. What I can say about outgrowing your identity is; just allow the process to occur without judgment, resentment, or retreat rather confront it and just ALLOW it to flow where it may. It will feel uncomfortable, scary, unfamiliar, and you may even want to cry. Cry! Allow the process to occur and trust, believe, and have faith that GOD (or who ever or whatever you believe in) is protecting you and guiding you to where you need to be.

  • Taty6600

    I always find myself on man repeller whether it’s for fashion inspiration your outlook on life or certain topics and I’ve found myself also struggling with my identity recently. I thought I was finally finding myself being content with how I looked or who I thought I was but I’m beginning to questioning many things : Why do I think this and everyone else thinks otherwise , why does everyone like this and I prefer something else no wonder I’m alone. I’m only sixteen about to be 17 in 3 days I guess I’m still young but It’s such an awkward phase . I don’t know how to write my feelings in such a rhetoric that show vulnerability like you I can only outline it

  • Julie

    Haven’t even listened yet but I already know that this episode will be exactly what I need to hear. So hard to find that balance between two equally frightening impulses: “I need to change EVERYTHING in my life RIGHT NOW” vs. “I feel completely frozen”. There has the be some sort of healthy in between, right?

    • Julie

      Also: in relation to the fashion end of things, I’ve found embracing 70’s summer disco style to be an excellent, all-natural mood booster that forces me to feel creative somehow. I’m even considering getting a shaggy haircut. who am I?!

  • Jones

    I can relate to this. I’m in an emotional flux and my wardrobe, previous sense of style do not make sense to me anymore. Its very confusing. I’m 36 years old and am caring less about fashion and the way I look. I don’t know why either. I have friends who say they went through something similar at my age. I want my mojo back!

  • Official Britney Spears

    This is legit the first internet comment I’ve ever left, but I related to this heavy, so I need to share. I have definitely been through this same experience, almost verbatim to how you described it. My last year of college was extremely traumatic (long story), and after I graduated and came out the other side, I experienced this major loss of identity. The combo of the trauma from that year, and the awk transitional phase of post-grad life was brutal. This manifested in the weirdest ways, similar to what you have described with your wardrobe ennui. I would be debilitated by the most basic outfit decisions, like what to wear to the grocery store. I wasn’t depressed, just experiencing a total loss of self and identity.
    The reason I share this is to suggest that perhaps what you are experiencing is a result of the very difficult year you have had. You have shared in poignant detail how difficult the loss of a pregnancy was for you.
    Perhaps what you’re experiencing now is not so much growing pains, as it is a direct result of what you have gone through. Tough times in life really truly change people. It’s real. If you feel like your identity has changed, it’s because it probably has. With loss especially, so much of the grieving is grieving the loss of who you were, and who you thought you were going to be with that person/situation. Your identity is literally forced to change.
    With that said, embrace this phase. Succumb to the confusion, the apathy, the boredom, or whatever you’re currently feeling/not feeling. I know that passively accepting something, rather than actively trying to change, is so much harder and feels counterintuitive, but sometimes it’s the only way out. I promise that eventually, everything will just fall neatly back into place, and you will once again feel like you are inhabiting your body and order will be restored in the world.
    Looking back now, the period of my life after I recalibrated and came out of that funk are some of the sweetest memories I have. Finally recognizing myself again was such a powerful and emancipating feeling that I don’t even know how to describe it. (And worth noting, I didn’t necessarily feel like my “old self” but I felt like MEEEE!).
    It’s gonna be so great and amazing and powerful and beautiful once you get there!!!! Just wait it out and do whatever the F you want until then 🙂

  • demyfloor

    I know EXACTLY how you feel because I’ve been feeling the same way for a few weeks now. I always had this interest in fashion and shopping, but suddenly it’s gone. And I’m buying things just to try to feel like I did when I was like that, but I don’t feel it anymore. It feels like I’m losing myself and I’m at this moment in my life where I need to make life changing decisions, but like you said, I have the feeling that I just have to wait en sit it through. I don’t know what I like anymore, or what music to listen to, or what clothes to buy. I just forgot to be me or something. I gave away a lot of my stuff because I couldn’t relate to them anymore but I don’t know what I do relate to right now. Thanks for sharing Leandra, you’re probably the only one in my environment (it feels like that thought I live in The Netherlands haha) that knows how this feels and that’s comforting.

    • Erica

      Maybe we put too much importance in things we buy and own and they’re not what defines us nor what makes us happy and there is no need to overthink this.

  • Adjoa

    Hey Leandra, quick question/feedback: with the new redesign of MR, would you consider adding regular fashion and style quizzes? Like for instance, what is the term for the new off the shoulder trend? Cold shoulders. Or something like that. Because I’d love to know the actual terms – sheath dresses, boiler suits or other terms that aren’t so obvious but totally help when searching to buy items for personal style while using Polyvore or Lyst? Am I making sense? Anyway, I’d love to gain knowledge with pretty quizzes that pack a wisdom-laden punch.

  • Nickie

    I am few years older than you (ok, several…big deal) and have gone through this a couple of times. You are right to ride it out and watch what happens. Staying true to your self is important…..sometimes we get “stuck” along the way, but if we give it enough time, focus on ourselves and those we love, we become “unstuck”. I realize this might seem kinda bullshitty but it’s true.
    And by the way, you are an inspiration to this “older gal”. 😉