“The first question she was asked was What do you do? as if that were enough to define you. Nobody ever asked you who you really were, because that changed. You might be a judge or a mother or a dreamer. You might be a loner or a visionary or a pessimist. You might be the victim, and you might be the bully. You could be the parent, and also the child. You might wound one day and heal the next.” ― Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes
Why is that we commonly equate our life’s meaning with our work? Why is our sense of self so steeped in our achievements and how well we perform? And when we’re not constantly accomplishing, or striving to accomplish, why do we then feel worthless? As though our existences have been entirely depleted of meaning?
When I don’t write, or when I don’t feel much like writing, I feel like I’ve wasted a day. When moments pass me by that I don’t document—colorful, important moments that penning about now will surely help me learn the grand significance of later—I am overcome with regret. If I consider my role as the documenter of my life, what purpose do I serve on the planet if I’m not documenting?
Why is our sense of integrity and well-being so wrapped up in what we do, when what we do is not equal to who we are? The simple truth is because untangling the two isn’t easy.
Right now, ask yourself who you are. And in doing so, don’t allow yourself to answer in terms of profession, hobbies, relationships or material attachments. All of a sudden the notion of who you are becomes a far more intricate and convoluted matter, doesn’t it?
In many ways it seems an impossible question to answer simply because it’s so societally ingrained, and accepted, to create identities around what we do, accomplish, are talented and skillful in, the company we keep, and things we own or are able to own.
But what happens when all that falls away? When we’re left with nothing but ourselves? When, like an onion, each of those material outer layers is peeled back and we’re left with only ourselves, our essence and core being? What does that self consist of? Who is it? What is it? And how can we stop attaching so fervently to those outer sheaths long enough to make our own acquaintance? Because when it comes down to it, we are all we have. And the thing about those layers is that although seemingly protective, they merely make it easier to live in a state of denial; to focus stringently on esoteric elements so we never actually have to make the most important journey of all… the journey within.
The minute we attach our identity to something outside ourselves—whether it be our profession, relationships, recreational activities—when we are no longer capable of or excited about working that job or honing that skill or being with that person, we ultimately lose ourselves and sense of security. Because that is all we’ve allowed ourselves to know of ourselves.
But here’s the thing, our lives are ladened with purpose and meaning, we just have to be open to realizing it. We’re all here for purposes that extend far beyond mere occupations and relational titles. And every day we’re granted a plethora of opportunities to understand, showcase, and experience that. We’re here to be active participants in life; to feel fully, to love others and ourselves, to grow, to enjoy, to learn from life’s highs, lows, valleys and peaks.
There’s a quote I love from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson on the definition of success and I read it every time I get down on myself for not accomplishing and thus not feeling like the best version of myself—or rather, feeling like no self at all—and it goes like this:
“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intellingent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.”
What enthralls me so deeply about this simple, yet evocative, passage is that it reminds me that success is measured in a myriad of ways. Too often people become so deeply connected to, and insistent on, climbing corporate ladders and other outward elements, that it becomes their only monitor of success, achievement, and thus, sense of self. And while that may indeed be one standard of success, so is simply living well, being well, enjoying each day, showing kindness to others, fulfilling passions, introducing a bit more creativity to the world through your very own unique and individualized thoughts, getting to know and love your self. Your true self — sans all the unprotected outer layers.
In my opinion, that is accomplishment and fortune defined. We just need to eradicate our preconceived notions of success and self-worth to realize it.
Sally forth and be writeful.
— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys