When I first left LA and moved to Berlin, something kind of crazy happened; I disappeared. Not in the literal sense, but in the way that I saw myself. There were many things going on at once. For the first time in my life I was able to fade into the background because I didn’t speak the language. I realized I wasn’t funny in German. I didn’t have a clue what group I fit into because I didn’t know what I did for a living anymore. And I didn’t feel very independent since I had come here with extremely limited financial and social resources.
Now you see me, now you don’t.
We spend our lives assuming labels. It’s just something we pick up honestly along the way. We learn that we are shy or funny or artistic or logical. We come to feel attractive or athletic or witty or nerdy. So we start to identify with these things. Some more than others, but one way or another, we take them on. And then, as if by magic, we become and perpetuate these things making sure they stay true. Sort of an external identity a la carte.
I carry around the “idea of me” in my pocket.
But what if we are none of these things? What if these are just inadequate ideas and concepts that actually get in our way when it comes to getting to know and love ourselves? I mean, things change. If you are known for being financially stable and you lose all your money, do you cease to exist? If you are a mother and your child dies do you stop being you? If you are attractive and you lose all your hair is your essence somehow changed?
The very structure of our society demands that we define ourselves. It requires that we pick up some labels, in fact, the more the better. Labels require us to feed the machine. If you are beautiful, rich, smart etc, you need to maintain that, cultivate that, surround yourself with that. If you are nerdy, you need to own the latest gadgets. If you are athletic you should have the best running shoe etc. Every commercial industry on the planet thrives on the premise that we keep doing and spending and pushing ourselves to be these things. All because we think we are these things.
Sometimes it helps to get naked.
So I came here and stripped down from all the labels that used to simultaneously console and confine me. I started asking: Who am I if I have no title? Leaving my country and comfort zone opened me up this idea that maybe, just maybe, I am not my labels. It’s not that I can’t appreciate my strengths or cultivate new ones. And it’s not that I don’t like the things that make up my personality, abilities and life situation. But I came to the conclusion that since the only consistent is change, there must be something that makes me inherently worthwhile beyond that neat little list. I found out that I am more than the sum of a bunch of labels because all those things can go away. Quick. Labels can be useful as long as you don’t take them too seriously.
Who are you without your list? If you lose your titles, would you disappear?