There’s an old saying that a person lives as three people – 1) the person you think you are, 2) the person who others think you are, and 3) the person you really are. Pay close attention to one and three. Both together imply that who you think you are may not be who you actually are.
Perhaps that’s why many young people are often told they need to find themselves. Or, why the 30 and 40 year olds I know claim to have settled into their ways, but still aren’t sure about who they are inside.
So, as we enter into this new year filled with new resolutions to become better people, ask yourself, “Who am I? If the saying above is true, are you the one, the two, or the three?
When I ask who you are, I’m not asking where you work or live, or your likes and dislikes. I’m asking about the intangible factors that make up your beliefs, your principles, your values.
From experience, I’ve learned that when those intangibles aren’t clearly defined, the mind tends to identify itself with external factors such as job titles and other types of roles. From those, a mental story or a self-image is created. Over time we forget that the image isn’t real. We eventually become extremely unhappy and ‘not know why’.
This is a form of self-manipulation, and it’s wicked! What’s interesting is that a person will spend years evolving that false image, building a life around it. But the person still feels empty inside. This is because the real you got lost in the fantasy. I’ve often seen this in people who hate being alone. They feel uncomfortable when they're by themselves and even describe it as living with a stranger … and in fact it is! This doesn’t mean they’re living wrong. It simply means there is more room for personal growth.
Personally, I struggled with self-manipulation during my teenage years. My specific issue was fueled by anger. I didn’t grow up in the best of circumstances and had some pretty bad experiences. I allowed the anger from them to control my actions so deeply, people described me as a ‘walking-storm cloud’.
After high school, I went away to college and experienced a completely different way of life in a completely different part of the country. Putting space between my problems and myself allowed me to deal with them. I became calmer and my actions weren’t as fuelled by anger. Finally it hit me ... I wasn't angry anymore.
And that was terrifying!
Until that point, much of my life had been defined by anger. I didn't know how to behave any other way. Since my teenage years, I’d created an entire life centered around ‘walking-storm cloud me’. Sure, living with this persona made me unhappy, but it was familiar. It was comfortable. So I chose to ignore the real me for a while longer, and continued living as the angry, depressed character I’d turned myself into.
This created a number of problems for me. Just about everywhere I went, conflict followed ... or so I thought. In reality, the conflict was within myself. I was traveling with it and unpacking it everywhere I went. While some people can live with (and feed off) the negativity generated by their false selves, I could not. So eventually, I learned to let go of the anger that was holding me back. And the energy that once fueled the fantasy was now used to discover the real me.
Sometimes, playing a role is actually necessary. Have you ever heard the phrase “Fake it ‘til you make it?” Also, different situations require us to act in certain ways. For example, how you interact with friends and family at home is much different than how you interact with colleagues at work or school. And that’s ok. But there’s a huge difference between fulfilling a role and losing yourself within it. It’s fine to have a public persona, but don’t deny who you really are inside like I had.
So, back to the original question: WHO ARE YOU?
How do you really know who you are? How do you identify the real person from the image, the role, the fantasy? Sometimes, the answer is as simple as discovering who you’re not. Other times it can be as complicated as acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses. Either way, learning about who you are requires time, patience, and ultimately acceptance.
So, don’t spend all of your energy investing into a self-image that isn’t real. Instead, use that energy to get to know your true self. That way, you’ll always be confident that your actions are genuine. Nor will you ever need to protect your image. Because the truth needs no defense, and neither does the real you.