Who Am I?
It seems like such an easy question doesn't it? A question to which we should have an easy answer. Sometimes, it is true these answers come easily, but at other times not so much. I do think that most of us recognize that we each play many complex roles: "I am a woman"...."I am a mother"..."I am a father"...."I am a lawyer".... "I am a teacher". Most of us would not define ourselves exclusively by any one of the roles we play, and hopefully, abstractly at least, we recognize that this is the case for others as well. But we don't always live out that understanding of others, that they too live complex lives, and that their own identities, just like our own, are shaped by many roles.
Sometimes it seems we don't even truly understand it ourselves, the question lurking behind questions such as "who am I". We tend to define ourselves by roles, by identities imposed on us, identities that are defined by a fixed set of parameters, identities that are more what than who. The statement "I am a mother" is a statement of identity defined by a role, and yes motherhood shapes our identity but motherhood alone is not identity, not self. Every mother is also a complete person apart from motherhood; a person who would be equally complete, different perhaps, but complete, whether or not she was a mother.
There is a danger in identifying ourselves exclusively by our roles -- by the roles we choose for ourselves as well as the roles that society chooses for us. "I am a lawyer" implies that one went to law school, but that also one works as a lawyer. We assume that people who say "I am a writer" work at writing and earn some kind of monetary recompense for their writing, ie. they are published. Sometimes writers are compelled to write, but their work is not recognized or appreciated in their lifetimes. No one today would question that Emily Dickinson was a writer, a poet, but only a dozen of her poems were published in her lifetime, and they were severely edited, often to the point of being rewritten, before they were deemed fit for publication. The term "writer" can be used as a "what" a definition of a person's place in the world, but also a "who" a statement about something that is essential to the nature of a particular person.
And so it seems that often what I think I know about myself is really about a role I have chosen to identify with. Although said role does indeed add shape and definition to who I am, it is also a mask, a mask that hides and shelters the person within. Roles are the what of our identity, but not necessarily the who; they do not define who we are on an essential level.
We are not born a blank slate. We are shaped by the families we are born into, our culture, our experiences, but there is always a self, a self learning to live and function in the world. Much of our lives is spent learning to shape our outward selves to what we perceive as needed to survive in the world. A large part of growing up concerns learning to take on the mantles of various roles in society, defining ourselves by external structures. But our self, that true self we were born with and which we may or may not have honored and expressed, remains. To be an adult, to thrive, to perhaps raise a family, requires building and maintaining a structure of societally sanctioned roles. And yet, later in life, if we are seeking wisdom, we may find we need to dig deeper. We may find we need to become archeologists of our own selves, our own souls. We may find ourselves once again asking "Who am I?" We may find ourselves searching for the inner resources, reasonings, and talents that underpin our roles in life.
It seems lately that I have been compelled, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming, to let go, to stop defining myself by the things I do. I have become compelled to question who I am more deeply, to seek out the reasons, needs, questions, yearnings, that have lead to making the choices I have made. Looking for that inner self is, in many ways, a frightening task. I don't always know who I will find when I strip away the layers, and I fear losing the security of my safely defined roles. This is hard work, and I am by nature, a person who seeks to go deeper, who is interested in the questions of who we are, and why the do the things we do. Choosing to dive into the depths does not make the experience any less frightening, nor any less rewarding.
Who am I? Today I am a person who is ready to start dismantling those definitions external to myself, a person ready to stop defining myself by "what" and start discovering "who". Welcome to my journey.