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Sense of Self

A sense of self

Until I hit sixty this year I hadn’t given much thought to who I am. Most of my time was spent in explaining what I do and how I do it but nobody has ever really asked me the question, ‘Who are you?’  I suspect it verges on being too personal and intrusive and leaves us floundering for an answer.

Here’s a little exercise for you. We know about the elevator/lift pitch when we’re trying to sell an idea or ourselves for a job, but try it in answer to the question, ‘Who are you?’ Switch it round and ask, ‘Who am I?’  You have 1 minute!

We can claim to be many things; kind, tolerant, helpful or grumpy, impatient, clever, but isn’t this just another list of labels and does it answer the question, ‘Who am I?’ Maybe in part.

I was asked this question recently and my mouth opened and shut like a goldfish as I struggled to find something to say that didn’t sound boastful or in my case self-deprecating. In the end I said, ‘I don’t really know.’ The truth is I lost myself somewhere along the way by way of too many mergers with the identity of others.

 Like anyone who has reached a milestone age, I’ve gone through so many transitions – sometimes I feel like a caterpillar with one leg still stuck in the pupa – that any sense of identity has become watered down. Many women talk about being invisible after a certain age. Often it’s mid-life that brings the crisis leading to the question of Who am I? In counselling we find ourselves being asked the question, ‘Well who do you want to be? We sit staring at the pattern on the carpet as we try to translate the question into something meaningful. We then reply in a small voice,’ I don’t really know.’

These days, I hear a lot of talk about being ‘authentic’ which has become another bit of meaningless jargon.

 Many people live fictional lives which they post on social media, hating their real selves in some cases. Being authentic means digging deep into your core and finding the rich talents and qualities that have been buried because someone else has written your script and you’re reading the words which at some deep level doesn’t resonate with you. Whatever is unique about you has been overlaid with opinion, prejudice, media exhortations about who and what you should be to become acceptable. This might appeal to the ego but it puts the real self in a permanent shadow.  Who has the right to judge your uniqueness and say it’s not good enough? Your worst enemy, though, is often yourself.  

It’s easier to fulfil the roles of parent, child, sister, colleague, fund raiser or whatever category you fall into because it means you don’t have to answer the question about you. It means you don’t have to think and that in turn means you live with your fictional self and a hole in your soul – a feeling of incompleteness.

Why put your faith in someone else to write your script when you deserve to write it for yourself.

There’s a great quote which sticks with me: Worry about your character and not your reputation. Your character is who you are and your reputation is only what people think of you.