Here’s a Good Reminder of Why We Shouldn’t Base Our Identity on Our Achievements

‘Being defeated is a choice.’
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‘Being defeated is a choice.’

What am I anymore if I’m not this?” That’s the question that UFC fighter Ronda Rousey says was running through her mind after she lost a title fight to Holly Holm late last year. The loss was her first, marring her undefeated record as well as her reputation as the best fighter in the world.

Rousey, who spoke publicly about the loss in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres last week, went on to admit that the blow to her undefeated record—and thus her identity—even caused her to have suicidal thoughts in the hours following the loss.

It’s a question that a lot of people face at some point in their lives—the question of what we are apart from our accomplishments or reputation. It’s a question I’ve faced myself: When an injury ended my soccer career, when I lost my job after a corporate buyout, when I quit another job to try my hand at the stay-at-home-mom gig, when I decided to go back to work but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do anymore. Who am I if I can’t do what I love? Who am I if I’m not successful professionally? Who am I now that so much of my life has to revolve around two tiny humans instead of my own pursuits? What am I anymore if Im not this?

Personal identity is achieved through a variety of factors, and many psychologists note that some form of crisis is often a necessary part of solidifying one’s self-identity. According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, an identity crisis is a time of intensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself. Researcher James Marcia, who expanded on Erikson’s theories in more recent years, asserts that the successful resolution of an identity crisis lies in simply making a commitment to one’s identity and letting go of other possible identities that may have been previously explored.

In last week’s interview, Rousey declares confidently that she has chosen who she is: undefeated. “I really do believe I’m still undefeated because being defeated is a choice,” she says. “Everybody has losses in their life, but I choose to be undefeated.”

It’s a rare glimpse into the fighter’s vulnerable side, as well as into the struggle that many top performers—across all professions—must go through in the face of defeat. Personally, I think it’s an invaluable glimpse. Although most people will never have to wrestle with the loss of an undefeated mixed martial arts fighting record (I certainly won’t), forging a path through life’s disappointments and surprises and upsets is part and parcel of the human experience. The path that Rousey is suggesting is one of honesty and self-encouragement. I think that’s even more impressive than an undefeated record.

Photo Credit: Jen Trahan