When I was six years old someone asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” At that age, living in a small Georgia town in the 1950s, I could only think of four careers for women—they were the only stories I knew: teacher, nurse, secretary, and housewife. By some process of elimination, I picked nurse. From that moment on, I began to get little nurse kits for my birthdays. The librarian at school set aside the biography of Florence Nightingale for me. If someone cut their finger, I was called in as the designated bandager. At sixteen, my parents arranged for me to be a volunteer at the local hospital. Everyone expected me to be a nurse, and I was like wet cement taking on the expectations.

I got my Bachelor’s degree in nursing and worked nine years—even taught nursing in a college—before I stopped and said to myself, “This is not who I am. I am not really a nurse inside. I’m a writer.” By that time, the cement had hardened and I had some jackhammer work to do, breaking up the old identity imbedded within and releasing a new self. I had continued with nursing, not because it is a noble profession that stirred my deep gladness, but because I did not want to risk upsetting others’—not to mention my own—ingrained notion of who I was. I wanted to please. I wanted to protect myself from the uncertainty of starting over. In such ways our consciousness becomes centered in the outer roles and masks we wear, rather than in the True Self within.

I have had to struggle to pull myself from the Collective They. At various times I have lived out of narrowly prescribed identities that I accepted and internalized from the Collective: dutiful and submissive wife, ever-sacrificing mother, armored career woman, perfectionist, pleaser, performer, good little girl who never colored outside the lines drawn for her. Sometimes I was so busy being tuned in to outside ideas, expectations, and demands, I failed to hear the unique music in my soul. I forfeited my ability to listen creatively to my deepest self, to my own God within. I was wearing the name “They.” 

When I wear this name I am limited in my ability to relate to others in a genuinely compassionate way. I am separated from them by the masks that keep me from being real with them. Stuck in the Collective They, I am more apt to relate out of my ego needs, from the subtleties of my false selves and from mandates and demands placed on me from others, rather than love born in my own heart.


One day driving down the street, I asked myself, “Sue Monk Kidd, who are you?” Right away the obvious answers came. “You are Bob and Ann’s mother, Sandy’s wife, Leah and Ridley’s daughter, a writer, a member of Grace Episcopal Church.” All nice things. Then I asked myself. “So, if all those roles were stripped away, then who would you be?” The question jolted me. It brought me to stand before the bare mystery of my own being. Was there something deeper at the very core of me that was purely and truly my “I”?


I came to believe that my true identity goes beyond the outer roles I play. It transcends the ego. I came to understand that there is an Authentic “I” within—an “I Am,” or divine spark within the soul.


Here is where our real selfhood is rooted, in the divine spark or seed, in the image of God imprinted on the human soul. The True Self is not our creation, but God’s. It is the self we are in our depths. It is our capacity for divinity and transcendence.