Healthy LivingCreative

Ipseity: Selfhood


Ipseity: Selfhood


Who am I? What defines my identity? 

I was only 4 when I learned that being a girl was simply not in line with my definition of fun or success. As a little girl living in Afghanistan, I was conditioned by society to believe I must grow up to be modest, desirable, cautious and quiet. That is not who I wanted to be. I wanted to be strong and independent — like how a man was described in my community.  

My longing for expression,

A hope I didn’t know – 

Is an expensive dream at best

In a world I seem to owe

When I was 9 years old, my grandfather decided I was no different than my brothers, and despite what society thought, he bought me a bicycle. Little girls did not ride bicycles. They were supposed to stay home and help their mothers cook and clean. Yet, every day after my grandfather came home from work, he would take me outside and teach me how to ride the bicycle. He knew I longed to be treated like my brothers; tough, carefree, an equal. I understand now it must not have been easy for him to take this step given the stigma that comes with encouraging a girl in his family to be outside, playing with the boys. 

From a very young age, my grandfather helped me see that I was capable of doing anything regardless of what was considered the norm. 


Does my culture determine who I am? 

An ask to be different, 

An ask to be unique.

Paint the world through my eyes, 

Through words I can’t even speak. 

That same year I decided being oppressed and accepting that fate was simply not for me. I wanted to go out, have fun playing with my brothers and not be bullied for doing so. My mother decided it was best for me to just cut my hair short. She sent me to the barber with my grandmother. I remember my waist-length hair falling on the floor and feeling some moisture in my eyes. I didn’t know what brought the tears. Was it the love I had for my long hair? Or the relief I felt knowing the freedom I would face as soon as I left the barbershop with the new look? 

That day changed everything. I was a different person and I couldn’t have been happier. I felt freer than I had ever felt and I could wear my brother’s clothes and go out, play and have fun. Nothing in the way. No bullies, no restrictions and no being forced to act a certain way just because that’s what society deemed “right.” My family helped me get there, and I count myself ever so fortunate. 


Does what I do make me who I am? Is my job my identity?

We all experience feeling trapped. Whether it’s in a personal relationship, a school major we no longer love or a job we just aren’t passionate about anymore. For me, it was my career that made me feel like I was lost in myself. 

I started my career at a very young age and was fortunate to do so. At the beginning, my job was everything I had hoped for, and everything that was right for me. I felt like it represented everything I believed in and contributed to all my future goals. I felt heard and important. My thoughts were valued as the youngest employee in the firm and I was the one with the “new” ideas. At some point, the job stopped being just a job. It started to be who I was. It was my whole life.

No purpose, no destination,

Just catch the morning train.

A world of nine to five.

Tomorrow, do it all again. 

Overtime, the work I did felt meaningless and repetitive. Work was all I thought about 24/7. The joy I felt was no longer there, and I felt myself moving further and further away from the initial goals that lead to this job. It didn’t take long for me to understand that the job was only “right” for me for that period of my life. If I didn’t leave soon I would get comfortable and be trapped.

This understanding was still not enough for me to act and actually leave the job. The financial comfort and the familiarity it brought me kept me caged. I felt anxiety over the questions that kept running through my head. What if this is all I’m good at? What if this is who I am? What if I leave and become a nobody? I thought: “having this job, at least I’m a nobody with a job. If I were to leave, I would be an unemployed nobody.” 

Perhaps it was a lie, 

To think outside the box. 

My cubicle — an hourglass,

Yet afraid if it stops. 

After many sleepless nights and a lot of tears and anxiety, I called my grandfather to ask him what he thought was right for me. He simply reminded me that it was difficult for me to ride my bicycle outdoors for the first time, but I did it and succeeded. He reminded me of the leap my family and I took at a young age when I cut my hair short, and became who I wanted to be. He reminded me how I am a free independent person, who is not and should not be tied down by culture, people or a dead-end job. He told me to do what I thought was right for me, and my family will be there every step of the way to support me. 

I gave my resignation the next morning. I left the comfort behind, pursued my passion and went on to make my goals happen. 

My identity is not determined by who I was born, where I was brought up, by my job or by what the people around me think. I am who I am because of the choices I make and because I, myself, can make things happen. And you can too. Sometimes we just need a little push and someone we trust to tell us to take the leap and be who we are. 


  • Nadima Ali Latif

    Nadima is an artist who expresses her deepest thoughts through creative-writing, painting, photography, and other artistic mediums. Her work focuses on somber moments with a hint of relaxation that blossoms into hope. Nadima enjoys writing on topics that express her thoughts on mental health, love and meditation.

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