Identity Crisis,

September 18, 2010

…a short autobiographical reflection on Adolescence.

Pete & Grandpop

During the transition from childhood to adulthood adolescents are faced with many new challenges in life. Not only are they changing rapidly physically but they are developing mentally as well. For the first time they find themselves pondering deeper questions such as “Who am I?” or “What is my place in life?” No longer comfortable in the role of a child and not yet an adult, adolescents are searching for places to fit in, searching for answers to questions of meaning and purpose, seeking to define who they are. In short; they are searching for identity. People who come from a strong and stable family and live in a healthy environment will experience the least anxiety about who they are. However, families that are broken or dysfunctional or even just unable to define a strong set of beliefs will most likely leave a child distraught and searching for structure and meaning in life. While there are definite skills and strategies parents can learn to help bridge their children into adulthood, the reality is that no family is perfect. Every person must face the challenge life offers to discover what he is made of and what he believes in.

Although they have managed to get past their problems, my parents were in conflict with each other when I was an adolescent, so I was unable to find any sense of identity from my family. After my sixth grade year I left a private school were everyone pretty much looked the same and moved to a public school in the seventh grade. This was a culture shock for me and it was really the first time that identity became an issue for me. Not because it was something I thought about, much less tried to define, but rather because “identity” was something that happened to me.

In the seventh grade I was still a boy. I didn’t fit in with most of the kids in school, but I found a group in which to find shelter with. We discovered that if you didn’t bother the popular kids or the bad kids, they pretty much left you alone. All we were interested in was getting through the day, so we could get home to our afterschool cartoons. When we got together, we played GI Joe, our bikes were still used for pleasure, and the topic of conversation was often about who would win if Batman or Spiderman would get in a fight. And I think we were genuinely happy. 

Eighth grade was when I discovered that girls weren’t really icky. But this new awareness also brought me to my discovery of who I was. Plain and simple, I was a geek. I couldn’t help but notice who was getting the girls attention, as well as notice the huge gulfs between us that marked our differences. I accepted my fate and took my place among the geeks and the nerds, but I wasn’t happy any longer.

Before ninth grade came around, I decided that I needed to be cool. I was tired of being teased and abused. I had already tried my hand with the upper class popular kids and was laughed out of that crowd, so I turned to the rebels of my generation; I had become a Headbanger. We were the kids with long hair, in black heavy metal t-shirts, jeans, jean jackets and boots, no matter how hot or how cold it got. We were the rebels of our time, but even then I knew the truth about us, we were all rejects of some form and we found this tough guy persona in order to hide our pain. Most of us were good kids, but once you adopt an identity like that in a culture that is full of stereotypes, you fall into what the expectations are for your group. By the end of ninth grade I was cutting most of my classes and getting stoned on a pretty frequent basis. I practically failed my freshman year, but that was okay; the important thing was that I had friends who were cool and nobody abused us. Besides, why would I want to identify myself with a bunch of snobs who were too good for me? I wanted nothing to do with their world and this society that centered on their selfish material interests and popularity games, so college and high school were of no importance to me.

Ironically, my drug use helped me find my way back to something like a purpose in life. Somewhere in tenth grade, I realized that I didn’t really like heavy metal all that much, but I had discovered some really good music from the late sixties and early seventies. I unconsciously molded into a hippie, but I was still stuck in the late eighties. I liked the concept of peace and love, and I admired the previous generation’s attempts to “change the world,” but I saw their attempts as failures. I discovered Jim Morrison of the Doors, and I began reading his poetry and tried to decipher his words. Jim Morrison was aware of the hypocrisy of his generation. He saw that mankind on his own was unable to create any true society of “peace and love.” He didn’t offer any solutions, but he made clear the problems in his time. He was also interested in spirituality and, to put it mildly, was a bit obsessed with the afterlife. Soon I started reading works by authors and poets who influenced Morrison, and in turn I began my own search for meaning and truth in this life. I also began writing my own poetry and expressed the ideas of my search through my works. I had slipped into an identity of a poet-philosopher, and I was completely at home there. I used to joke with my friends that it was too bad you couldn’t get paid to sit around and think, like those old guys from ancient Greece, but I really didn’t have any direction or confidence in myself.  Eventually, my poetry gained the attention of one of my teachers who made a large impact on my life. She took an interest in my work and challenged me to do something with my ideas.

“If there’s so much wrong with the world,” she would say, “why don’t you do something to change it.”  I would always answer her that there was no use; no one can really make any difference. In time she became a mentor for me and her praise instilled confidence in my abilities and added self-esteem to my identity. One day she boldly asked me if she had made any difference in my life. I answered in an absolute affirmative, and she asked why I thought I couldn’t do the same for someone else. She made me realize that since she impacted my life for the better, that human beings, including myself, really could make a difference in the world, even if it was just a few people at a time. She was the first person to plant the idea of teaching in my head. Though it has grown and been refined, this is the main identity that has stuck with me throughout the years. Because she saw something of worth in who I was, she made me realize the value in who I could become. I learned that my potential is much greater than the weaknesses that hold me back as long I keep the vision before me and continue to walk it out. I was lucky enough to receive these foundational principles in my identity as a teenager; they have stuck with me, and they have helped me define my beliefs and have helped to build my confidence in the man I am today.

Peter L Richardson
Fall, 2002

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4 Responses to “Identity Crisis,”

  1. Steph Says:

    Awesome Pete!

  2. Brandi Says:

    Interesting. I’m curious. When/What brought you to the Lord?


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