The question of ‘ who you are ‘ is one which most of us will spend our lives trying to answer, and if you’re reading this because you think there’s going to be a quiz at the end that will help you find out, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. You see, I don’t have the answer for you. I spent a long, long time questioning who I was, running around trying to figure it out, wondering why I felt this conflict inside that I couldn’t seem to settle, and it was in this battle that I found my answer. Whether or not it’s the same answer for you, I’m not sure. I guess you can tell me at the end of this blog.
Who Am I?
Growing up, I used to think I didn’t know who I was because I thought I had to choose.
I thought that ‘ who you are ‘ was a question with a one-word answer. You see, society likes to put us into boxes. Male, female, gay, straight, black, white, employed, unemployed, single, married… and we are made to feel like whichever one of these boxes we land in somehow defines who we are or what we should do or what we are allowed to contribute to the world. We are made to feel like we must stay in our box and act accordingly, and so we get stuck at a crossroads between becoming this person that we want to be, but being constantly reminded by society, by our friends and family, of the person we used to be, or who they feel we should be.
So I was stuck, as many of you are; as many of you will be.
THE REALISATION of who you are
But then I went away for a while, and I learned that the beautiful thing about this life is that you don’t have to choose. It’s okay to be different, to be layered, to wake up one morning and decide to make a change. You can be multi-dimensional, and you should be. You don’t find yourself hanging out with the smart kids in school and, in doing so, confine yourself to a life of being ‘the smart kid’. That’s not how it works. You can be as many things as you want to be.
I used to think that I didn’t know who I was because I liked rap music, but I liked to shop at health stores; I liked to wear dresses and high heels, but I also liked kicking around in jeans and old jumpers. This friction made me think I didn’t know which box I fit into, but then I grew up and I realised, I don’t have a box. I don’t have to choose. It’s not that I didn’t know who I was, I just didn’t realise that it’s okay to be all of these things. We are told to be the cute one or the funny one or the smart one and we forget that we can be all of it. You don’t need to reduce yourself down to one trait, one quality. You are so much more than this, and you can be whatever you want to be.
Sometimes I think this limitless freedom to be who you want is unsettling, because it makes you think that you don’t know who you are. And I totally get it. There’s a hundred different variations of me and it used to make my head spin. There’s a strong, badass one. There’s a happy, positive one. There’s one who’s brave, who’s scared, who’s clever, who’s idiotic, who’s generous, who’s selfish. There’s one who packed her suitcase and set off to Africa when she was eighteen, and yet sometimes gets nervous about going to the cinema. There’s one who was brought up by the most amazing male role models, and yet sometimes gets upset when some idiot guy doesn’t text her back. There’s one who spends days by herself doing her own thing and not giving a damn, and yet sometimes feels so alone and just wants to have somebody there.
And that’s totally okay. It doesn’t mean that I don’t know who I am, it means I have allowed myself to explore all the different parts of me. I live my life being positive and happy and grateful, but when my fear and sadness and loneliness come, I embrace them. Does this then make me weak? Does this make me less of a strong woman? Absolutely not. A huge part of my strength is that I confront these pieces of me; I welcome them, I allow myself to feel them, I learn from them. Allowing yourself to feel all of these things inside of you does not mean that you are lost, it means that you are learning and experiencing the richness of your soul.
So how do you find out who you are?
The best thing you can do is immerse yourself in your curiosity. How do you ever expect to find out who you are if you don’t expose yourself to new things? If you deny yourself opportunities? You must question, taste, experience, indulge, adventure, TRY everything.
Often we are scared of ‘different’ and ‘new’ because we worry that we won’t like it, or that we will fail. Yet, perhaps the biggest part of finding out who you are is finding out who you are not. The things that scare you, that disgust you, that make you angry: these things are just as much a part of your identity as the things that you love, that make you happy, that you are passionate about, and so you must let them in. It is this recognition of what you are not – your negative identity – that allows you to accept the person that you are. To truly know yourself.
So what I’m saying is: sometimes the things that scare you the most are the things which you need to do the most. But we can only learn these things when we explore outside of ourselves and what we know.
I did not find the pieces of me by staying in one place with the same people and the same job and the same life. I found them in plane journeys and long walks in foreign cities and southern hemisphere skies and sunsets on oceans. I found them in hostel rooms and conversations with strangers and hidden coffee shops and pages of books. I found them in being alone, in having courage, and in choosing to live a life that confronts me with obstacles and challenges. With ‘different’. With ‘new’.
I found them by getting out of my box.
Will you get out of yours?
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Photo credit: Miquel Sorell