I don't know about you, but I have had a hard time figuring out who I really am. For a big chunk of my life I have been stuck in the exhausting quest to be who I thought everyone else wanted me to be. Not that people really wanted me to be anything in particular. I just wanted to be liked.
I remember seeing "those" people in a crowd that everyone was drawn to and I would pick out whatever characteristic I thought was creating the magnet that drew people in. I would decide to do "that". The problem was that when I got in another crowd, the game had shifted and now I had to work at being something entirely different.
I even remember liking the characters that Meg Ryan played in movies like Sleepless in Seattle and You Got Mail. She seemed so fun, carefree, a little playful, and not at all afraid to be herself. The problem was that even she wasn't being herself, but only playing a role.
These days, the confusion is compounded by a whole lot of heartache. Trauma is what my counselor calls it, which is a harsh word, yet probably accurate. For those who have gone through traumatic experiences you know what I mean. You come out an entirely different person on the other side. One that you really don't even know.
Whether your trauma comes from great loss of some kind, betrayal by someone you trusted, emotional or physical attack or abuse, a diagnosis of a debilitating disease, or a horrific experience, you walk out changed.
Any major life experience alters who you are, good or bad. You become defined by your experience whether you want to or not. When you become a spouse or a parent, you live life differently. You have new conversations, read new books or blogs, don't have the freedom you used to enjoy, have new experiences, and even receive a new title.
When you go through cancer, lose a loved one, or experience deep attack on your soul, you are also defined. If you're like me, you are now in a new "club". Not necessarily one of your choosing, but you are. You now spend your time differently, associate with new people, learn things you never thought you would, and look at life through a radically different lens. One you don't necessarily recognize. It can make you feel a little bit like a stranger in your own skin.
But, it doesn't have to be a bad thing. Paul says in Romans 8:28 that "we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." He doesn't say that all things are good, but that everything will work together to form good. We just need to allow Him to do it.
So, as I try to figure out how to walk in this world with some sort of positive affect on those around me, I need to first figure out who I really am-now. Whether you have played the game of pretending to be someone else, or if your persona has indeed been altered by life's hardships, yet you are still trying to be your old self, I'm guessing some of you may need to do the same.
Here are some ways I have discovered to do just that. As you read through them, keep in mind that no matter who we are, our goal is to be like Jesus. The "What Would Jesus Do" thing is overused but it's really not a bad standard to live by, since one of his goals was to teach us how to behave so we could glorify the Father. I think we'll be ok if we want to be like Him (and probably not necessarily Meg Ryan).
Who you truly are can be reveled through:
1. Hardships. We all go through truly awful things, but how you respond and operate through them reveals your true character. You can stay fearful or bitter, or you can learn through them, know that they can serve a purpose, and let them refine who you can be as you move forward. Thomas S. Monson says "Our most significant opportunities will be found in our greatest difficulty." Being our true self is an opportunity.
2. How you act when angry or stressed. Do you take your anger out on those around you, verbally or physically? Do you get out of control? Controlling your temper benefits you and those around you. Proverbs 29:11 says "Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end."
3. How you treat those who are marginalized. Do you have a heart for those who can do nothing for you or do you try to impress those in power? Writer Jeff Goins says that the generation that is creating their path today does well to throw out the saying of "It's not what you know, it's who you know" and replace it with "It's not who you know, it's who you help." Do you have the heart of Christ when you see others in need?
4. How you behave when no one is looking. Do you find your self doing things that you feel compelled to hide? Are you living in the chaos that results from essentially being two different people? Pick the one that offers value and truth and let that be your real self. C.S. Lewis says "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking." We always want to move toward integrity.
5. How you behave when everyone is looking. Pretending to be someone you're not when the crowd is looking can also be a trap. It's equally exhausting and is deceptive to everyone, including yourself. This only confuses the quest to be who you truly are and hope to be.
6. How you treat people in need. Do you tend to be empathetic, sympathetic, patient, kind, and helpful, while still requiring boundaries? Or do you look down on people, make fun of them, laugh at their misfortunes, or let them fend for themselves when you could be helping?
7. What you read, listen to and get entertained by. We all have preferences and they are not necessarily good or bad. A youth speaker I heard once said that groups in High School tend to be determined by their taste in music. Our taste in entertainment does tend to put us in a particular social group and we know that who we spend our time with has a huge influence on who we are as people. But, we also need to realize that what we allow ourselves to be entertained by reflects what is in our heart and mind. These choices can be varied, but they are still either constructive or destructive. Also, how you deal with people who have entirely different taste than you do reveals a lot about you as well.
8. How you spend your money. I've heard it said that a good measure of your heart is reflected in your checkbook. What do you spend your money on? Are you a spender or a saver? Are you giving or do you focus on your own needs? Are you disciplined or haphazard? All of these things reflect who you are.
9. How you speak of others behind their backs. What we say about others reflects how we feel about ourselves. Do you gossip and teardown or are you encouraging and understanding? Are you hurtful or respectful? Are you threatened and strike out with your words or are you confident in yourself and lift others up?
10. How you deal with conflict. Do you attack and power over the other person or are you quick to listen and hear the other point of view? Do you always want to be right or can you compromise? Do you blame and turn the disagreement into a personal attack or can you agree to disagree? Aristotle said "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." There is a freedom that comes with this point of view which blocks letting defensiveness take over.
11. How you accept others' successes. Do you navigate life through the lens of deprivation or abundance? Deprivation says that if they succeed there's less out there for me. Abundance says that if they succeed, that means I can too. Deprivation says that if they get something wonderful then there's less for me. Abundance says that I can celebrate what they acquired because that way we can all win.
12. What you turn to in order to find comfort. Is what you turn to positive or negative? Is it constructive, destructive or simply neutral? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Exercise can be of great help, but it can also turn into an unhealthy obsession. I heard a therapist once say that you can tell if something you turn to is healthy or toxic by how you feel afterwards. Do you feel refreshed or shamed? We all need comfort but the need can take us down dangerous paths if we aren't careful.
13. How do we spend our down-time? What are our hobbies? What are we passionate about? Are we spending time on what we really care about or are we trying to please others in our lives? Are we being true to ourselves in our choices? I know that my interests have changed in the course of my life and it's been hard for those closest to me to accept that. There are seasons for things and we can ebb and flow in what we desire to devote our time to.
I don't know if these help you at all but they have me. As I honestly reflect on this list, I do see where my heart is, where it isn't, and where it needs to change. Anne Lamott says that as we become the person we were meant to be, "the real issue is how do we gently stop being who we aren't?" Once we can start to get rid of who we aren't, who we really are will come through. And that's the one God can use.
Kurt Cobain once said, "Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are." That pretty much says it all.