Who could forget Brad Pitt’s convincingly sardonic monologue in the middle of Fight Club as he supervised his growing army of anarchists: “You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your %#&ing khakis.”
While his motivational techniques and delivery could have been a little more inspiring, I think he was on to something. How often we identify who we are with what we have, what we do, who we know, and so on. I’ve comprised a list of a few sneaky and erroneous means by which we identify ourselves.
1. You are not your job
“So, Sara, what do you do?”
I hate that question. It stings at my ego and flusters my inner I’m-not-good-enough button. You see, I like my job. It comes easy to me, I work with great people and I have access to a lot of exciting opportunities and amenities. But my job title? Senior Account Executive – basically it translates into “telemarketer.”
Now I might not have taken too much issue with this if I hadn’t graduated in 2002 with a Doctorate in Pharmacy. Gallup publishes a list every year of the Most Respected Professions, and pharmacist is usually number one! Guess which is last… telemarketer. So you can see why I flush a little when I have to admit my profession, even though I am quite satisfied with my work.
I constantly allow the imagined judgment of others to permeate my psyche, but I still sometimes think, “I am what I do.”
Let’s go back to the offending question, “What do you do?” It’s technically my choice to answer that any way I want – I blog, I parent, I mentor, I dance in front of the mirror – and none of that even culminates in who I am as a person. Were the question, “What are you?” I doubt I’d even consider mentioning what I happen to do for a living. Would you?
Ask yourself this: How do you identify with what you do to pay the bills?
2. You are not your mistakes
If you’re like the rest of us, you’ve messed up a few times.
If you’re like me, you’ve messed up a lot.
After years of tripping over the same rocks I started to identify with my screw ups. I was no longer a good person who made bad decisions, I began to see myself as just a bad person. The worse I thought of myself, the worse my behavior became – I was a walking self-fulfilling prophecy.
They say we should all learn from our mistakes, that we should never repeat them. I say that the more we focus on the past, the more our flubs can become ingrained in our psyche. Some people have to touch a hot stove a couple of times before deciding that the ouch is not worth the rush. Are they any less teachable than the person who will never cook again for fear of getting burned?
So how do we keep on trudging this road without getting down on ourselves for mucking up a few times? It became as simple as this: My daughter asked me if I still loved her after she got in trouble for not listening. Was there ever a doubt? “Of course, I still love you I said – I just don’t like the things you do sometimes.”
How on Earth could I stand there and clearly see the difference between my child and her mistakes yet so staunchly flog myself with the transgressions of my own past?
Ask yourself if you’ve separated the doing from the doer. Have you forgiven yourself for your mistakes, or are you holding a grudge that you could never overcome?
3. You are not your parents’ scorecard
I once overheard my mother talking to her friends about my life. I listened as she spun this web of 90% truth and made me out to be perfectly in line with her plan for me (to make money and therefore be happy by default).
But she forgot to mention the years of struggle, the divorce, the failures, the regret. I was immediately filled with shame that I didn’t measure up to what my mom wanted to be.
When she describes my life to her friends, am I just the extension of her own successes and failures? How much of what I had decided I wanted was to please my parents, and how much of it was to become happily fulfilled?
Many of us into adulthood still seek our parents’ approval, whether we think we do or not. The haunting shadows of self-doubt were engrained in us before we even knew we had a choice in life and they still follow us, pretending to be part of our own thoughts.
But they aren’t.
Finding your true self – boundaries, talents, limitations, desires- is a lot more challenging than people assume. So much of what we engage in is actually attempting to prove something to the world… to our parents.
I had to stop living as if someone were keeping score, and stop caring about the fact that some people actually were.
Ask yourself: How much of what I do is for me, and how much is to make someone else proud of me… at last?
Finding out who we are is so much about conscious choice. By allowing ourselves to fall into these easy patterns of identification we actually sell ourselves short. There’s so much more to me than what I do, what my parents think, and how I’ve messed up. Today I’ve decided to start by looking first at what I am NOT in order to discover what I AM.