September 2, 2020

A Shockingly Effective Way to Figure out Who the Heck we Are.

Who Am I?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself on countless occasions.

Not because I’m having an existential crisis—or at least not one that I am aware of.

But perhaps it is exactly that.

Regardless, the fact that I often come back to this question may shed some light and offer one possible answer.

I am a seeker. A soul-searcher who sometimes has trouble witnessing herself. I often struggle to see my own progress. When I look in the mirror, I don’t always recognize myself.

I think it can be tricky to see yourself clearly. As Michal Coret aptly notes, “It’s difficult to become someone you don’t know at all. It’s difficult, indeed, to become yourself.”

Pondering who I am feels a bit like gazing at disparate images from different photographers capturing the essence of the same subject—me. I find it beautiful and a little unsettling.

I read a post a few weeks back, which postulated that a different version of each of us exists in the minds of everyone who knows us. And that the person you think of as “yourself” exists only for you, and even you don’t really know who that is.

Without getting into metaphysical musing about beings, energy, consciousness, souls, thermodynamics, or any such things, simply from a seeking point of view, this thesis captured my attention. What could I learn about myself and how others see the world, if I knew more about how they perceive me? What mirrors could they hold up for me to see a fuller picture of myself? The good, the bad, and the ugly. What truths could they show me—what guides could they become—if I were willing to ask?

So, I did. I asked a bunch of people to describe me to me—who they think I am. With strict instruction to lay it all bare.

It turns out there’s a psychological technique called Johari Window that pretty much does what I asked, with a bit more rigor. Using a set number of attributes and a four-quadrant matrix, it shows where you and others agree about who you are (the arena); areas you know about yourself that others don’t (the façade); qualities others attribute to you, but you don’t see for yourself (the blind spot); and characteristics that neither you or they associate with you (the unknown). Okay, maybe I’m on to something here!

Through my request, here’s what I learned:

1. I have amazing friends, colleagues, exes, acquaintances, and family members. People I’ve known for decades and some I’ve never even met in person—just virtually through Zoom, a few short months ago. So many people were willing to help me. To take time. To consider my ask and offer their perspectives.

2. No matter how much one stresses the importance of honest feedback, it is difficult to give. One of the responses came with a disclaimer. It actually started off that way, outlining reasons why this person couldn’t be objective. Of course you can’t! No one can. It’s all subjective. That doesn’t make the feedback wrong or any less valuable in my opinion.

3. Which brings me to the thesis of the post I’d read. We do see each other through our own filters. There is no other way we could. Yet, it was so blatantly obvious when I read their descriptions of me. Who they think I am underscored my connection with each of them, and spoke volumes about who they are. A world view we have in common. A mutual passion pursuit. Shared wounds. Similar life events. Joyful triumphs we’ve celebrated. It reminded me what a great gift they are in my life and how much I’ve learned from them.

4. Perhaps most illuminating and personally fulfilling, they were willing to grant me warm sentiment, compassion, and understanding in some places I have not yet done for myself. They voiced admiration for things I tend to discount. They showed me love and kindness. They embraced me as me. And in doing so, they enabled me to see myself through fresh eyes. My faults, tendencies, runaway train wrecks, strengths, hopes, and dreams. And to be more okay with all the “me’s” who walk around on any given day.

So, who am I?

According to my collaborators, through their eyes, I am:

>> A beautiful pain in the ass. A handful and a challenge. A woman transitioning—fiery, high energy, controlling at times, assertive, cool and relaxed, and able to surrender. On her path. Blossoming.

>> Loyal to a fault. A friend for life. Reliable. Dependable. Doggedly determined. Like a momma lion with her cubs for those I love and want to protect.

>> Wicked smart. A smart ass. Sarcastic to the point of arrogance. One who suffers no fools and is overcome with antipathy for obtuse or stupid questions. Easily frustrated. Quick to anger. Intimidating. And sometimes, just plain too much.

>> Generous, compassionate, kind, and warm. A gentle, tender champion for the underdogs of the world.

>> Adventurous, willing to suffer for experiences, open minded. Courageous and brave. Insatiably curious. Always looking for meaning. Constantly questioning. (Indeed, that is how this whole thing got started.)

>> Opinionated. Stubborn. Flexible. Edgy. Standoffish. Loving. And lovable.

From my own point of view:

>> I am a work in progress. A lover of animals, nature, wild places, music, and tea made “the proper way” in the British tradition. I am a wayfarer, a wanderer, and a gypsy at heart. A deeply sensitive soul. I often take things personally. Too personally. Ever curious, I’m motivated by challenge, growth, learning, and new perspectives. That is not to say those things come easily to me—they don’t. But I am a resilient, determined, strong, and independent woman.

>> I am okay with conflict, until I’m not. And when I’m not, I have to work hard not to put on my running shoes and burst headlong out the door to some magical Shangri-La.

>> I am an immediate, all-in kind of person. Over the top and deeply passionate, I mentally process quickly. Sometimes too quickly. I can get rolling and take no prisoners. I can be impulsive and impatient. Very impatient. No surprise, I don’t like to be told what to do. I am intense when I work. I want to do things right. Integrity is paramount for me.

All that said, I am on a journey. As Glennon Doyle declares,

“My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, moment, relationship, conversation, and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself.”

In doing so, I’ve been putting my armor—halting, distant, and cold—aside. I’m allowing myself to be wrong. To try new things and to suck at them. I’ve allowed myself to show up as a deeply flawed, all-too-serious, perfectionist wanting desperately to be something else. Somebody else.

And I have been exasperated at my own inability to live up to some bullsh*t idealized version of me, that came from elsewhere, but which I internalized as my own.

Despite the self-imposed hardship, there is no other journey for me. Metamorphosis on a micro and massive scale.

Day by day. Leaps and bounds into the unknown, only to be drug back again and again by well-worn conditioning.

A willingness—no, an undeniable, gut-wrenching need—to die a thousand deaths of the me that I was, the one I thought I was supposed to be, the one you see me as, the one you admire, and the one you detest. All of it.

“If we are truly alive, we are constantly losing who we just were, what we just built, what we just believed, what we just knew to be true.” ~ Glennon Doyle

More wisdom that I find comforting. And validating.

Letting it all just be. Me letting me be me.

So, having gazed through to the other side, how can all these descriptions—some mine, some from others, some so contradictory—be me? Are these different versions of me?

In line with the insights I gained from my most recent identity quest and ongoing search for wholeness, I have come to agree with Scott Turow. He says, “Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and believe?”


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