Sometimes choosing your identity is as easy as walking the plank

brave choices labels nametags purpose Feb 05, 2020

“Mommy, come walk the plank with me!” Splashes, squeals, and laughter surrounded us as Matt tugged pleadingly on my arm. We spent Spring Break this year on a cruise, welcoming the heat and sun as we escaped from snowy Ohio. And on this particular day, while the ship was moored in Barbados, my family enjoyed an excursion on the Jolly Roger, complete with a pirate crew and (of course) the plank.

I glanced at Jon, who was firmly planted in his seat, then back at Matt before shaking my head. “Nope, sorry, kiddo. I’m just going to watch.” I hated seeing the disappointment in his eyes, but I would not be shaken. I wish I were skinnier. I wish I were more adventurous. I wish I weren’t so insecure.

I wish… I wish… I wish…

I thought about a friend of mine who inspires me with her adventurous spirit. “I wish I were more like Sara,” I told my husband. “She wouldn’t think twice about jumping off that plank.” I wish I were that kind of person, the one who doesn’t hesitate to join in and try new things. That’s just not who I am.

Then it hit me: says who?

Who decides if I get to be adventurous? Who chooses how insecure I am? Who declares whether I get to be the kind of person who tries new things—who walks the plank (figuratively and literally)?

And here’s the answer: I do.

I get to decide. I am not fated to live a life in the shadows if I don’t want to. Did you get that? Because it’s true for you, too. We don’t have to follow someone’s pre-conceived notions of who we are—not even our own. We get to choose.

In life we wear many nametags. Some are just part of our identities: daughter, sister, wife, mom. Others get thrust upon us as we go through life, labels that attempt to describe who we are: nerd, jock, shy, outgoing, stuck-up, friendly. Do any of those sound familiar? What other nametags have you worn? Who put them on you? Your friends? Your enemies? Yourself?

Maybe you’re walking around wearing unnecessary nametags. They might be outdated, or they might never have fit in the first place. Either way, isn’t it time to start peeling them off?

OK, so maybe it’s not quite that easy. Our old, well-worn nametags aren’t like the Paw Patrol sticker our toddler put on our jeans that we surreptitiously tossed before walking into Target. No, these are more like the name tags kids get at church that go through the laundry, sinking that adhesive residue deep into the very fibers. It’s no longer a quick fix, it’s a process. But it’s a worthwhile one.

So how do we do it?

One decision at a time.

I walked the plank that day. It felt good. OK, it actually felt a little scary and uncomfortable. But I did it anyway, and that part felt great.

Being brave

Matt’s wave makes it look like he’s trying to avoid the paparazzi. I can assure you this is not the case.

Then they pulled out the rope swing. And I had to start all over. “Are you going to try the swing now?” my husband asked, half teasing.

“Nope. I have my limits, you know.”

“Sara would go on the rope swing.”

I glared at him. And then I got in line.

I did the rope swing. I screamed the whole time. None of the other adults screamed. I don’t even think any of the kids screamed. But I did it. I chose not to be held back by my labels that day. I chose to create new ones: Adventurous. Brave.

The next brave thing I did was post bathing-suit-clad pictures of myself online. Yikes. But here is proof that I got on that rope swing and let my son watch me be brave.


But that doesn’t mean I suddenly became a new person, revolutionized by those 15 seconds hanging from a rope. That old label still hangs on, trying to pull me back into familiar patterns. Like the stuck on adhesive of a laundered nametag, it takes intention, effort, and time to make a change.

Just remember: In our internal struggles, the one that wins is the one you feed. By making a hard but worthwhile choice, you make it just a teeny bit easier to make the good choice again the next time. And then the next time. And then the next time. Feed the spirit you want to watch grow.

And when your 11-year-old asks you to walk the plank, walk the plank.

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