People always ask the question, “who are you?” as if a person could be summed up in just a few descriptors. “I’m an accountant.” “I’m an artist.” This may reveal a little about one’s personality, but simply stating your job title or hobby in no way could cover the full scope of the thoughts, dreams and experiences of someone. For a while, however, I thought it could, and had crafted my response to be one I was quite proud of: “I am a runner and painter who loves to read and spend time laughing with friends.” Most of the time, however, I wasn’t allowed this longer and more telling response and had to sum up all that I am in one word. One. Fickle. Word. “I’m a runner,” became my automatic reply.
The truth is I did love to run, a lot. I ran almost everyday, but does that and should that define me? This is a question I probably would never have stopped to ask myself had I not been forced by injury to stop running—indefinitely. I spent 6 grueling months on crutches—not running—only to come out of it and have the doctor crush all my hopes in one sentence: “Seeing as your knees are prone to injury, I would recommend you not run anymore and take up something lower impact, say swimming?” SWIMMING?! I was furious and devastated. The small rebellious part of me immediately rose up against him, and I was already thinking how he couldn’t tell me what to do and that I would run again because I had to. The more practical side of me went over my past 3 knee injuries, all resulting with miserable months of crutches and dependence on others, thought maybe it would be smarter not to.
Thankfully, I let the more practical side of me win. I slowly eased into exercise starting with a whole 6 minutes on the elliptical. It was humiliating to go from 6-mile runs to 6 minutes on a machine. This all was happening right around the time I had a new semester in college about to start. The first day of class rolled around and I showed up as any person resistant to change, anxious but eager for the newness and structure. Since the class was fairly small, my teacher asked us to go around the table and (really this should not have thrown me off guard) describe ourselves in a few words. I immediately felt a cold sweat on my neck and my heart raced as I tried to remember anything about myself besides running. It didn’t help that the second girl proudly stated that she “looooved running.” That’s when it hit me. I wasn’t a runner. I also was never going to be able to define myself as a runner again. This sort of safety blanket descriptor was no longer applicable, and I hadn’t realized how much I relied on it to define me, after all aren’t I much more than running?
This got me thinking of the ways we are forced to define ourselves. It’s certainly okay to have hobbies and to use them to paint a small picture of who we are, but in the end these things are temporary, but then again so are we. Our lives like our hobbies are fleeting, and we are constantly changing throughout the journey. We change hobbies whether it be because we are drawn to new interests or forced for whatever reason to move on. Whether we like to admit it or not—I certainly did not—we find some sort of comfort in hiding behind our hobbies and using them to define us. This later becomes our careers.
It is important to remember that we are more than our hobbies and careers. We are also more than how society or even we choose to define ourselves, and it is almost always up to us what that definition will be. I may not be a runner anymore, but I would rather be defined by qualities and descriptors that are not prone to injury: loving, good friend, generous and hard working.