There are lots of ways I describe myself: creative, fun, intelligent, intense. I see myself as a musician, a writer, a mom, a gardner, a vegetarian…you get the idea. We all have ways we view ourselves, niches we put ourselves into as a way to define and understand who we are as human beings. Here in the United States we have a rather narrow-minded custom of asking people when we meet them, “what do you do?” as if their job necessarily defines who they are as a complete person or gives us any real insight into the person standing before us.
The obvious truth is we’re complex, right? A mechanic can also be a published poet. A cab driver can be a PhD student during the day. A lawyer might teach belly dancing in her time off. The more we take the time to get to know someone, the more our understanding of them as a whole person expands and we get a more complete picture.
Except when it comes to ourselves.
How many times have you said no to something because, “that’s not who I am”?
Have you said no to a painting class because you’re not an artist?
Have you turned down a promotion because you felt you weren’t qualified for that position?
Have you received recognition in your chosen profession, or hobby or some other passionate pursuit and thought to yourself, “It’s just a matter of time before they find out I’m a fraud”?
The longer we live with ourselves, the more narrow view we have of who we are and what we are capable of accomplishing. Kids love trying new things- they don’t prejudge whether they can do it or not. They don’t expect failure. Look at a baby learning to walk. Every time he falls he’s not sitting there mired in self-doubt, wondering if he’s got what it takes to walk or considering stopping all together because clearly he wasn’t cut out for this sort of thing. As kids get older, you can watch self-doubt creep in as they learn to have limiting beliefs about themselves.
My two daughters decided they wanted to play soccer this fall for the first time. They’ve both been very active dancers for a while and although they aren’t giving that up, they wanted to try something new. My youngest, a whirlwind of activity, emotion and living in the moment is almost six – her philosophy is go out, kick the ball, see what happens. My oldest, a precocious, graceful and athletic nine year old is much more hesitant. “What if I’m no good? What if all the other girls are better than me? What if I fail?” Of course I’m paraphrasing for both of them, but the difference is apparent. At nine, my oldest is starting to believe in definitions, in self-doubt, in fear. I work hard to fight against that in her life and in mine too, quite frankly. So the message to both of them has been: It’s fun, it’s different. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to be open to a new possibility.
The challenge is, for my daughters to embrace this mindset, I have to put it into practice as well. Up until recently, one word you wouldn’t have heard me use to describe myself is “runner.” Out of shape, non-athletic, tired — all limiting words I have used in the past to describe myself. I am grateful for a relatively new friend who looked at me recently and saw the possibility in myself that I could not – “Do you run?” she asked. I almost snorted the soda I was drinking right onto the pile of cotton candy I was eating, but I composed myself enough to ask why. She then invited me to train with her for a 5k run in December, appropriately titled ‘The Hot Chocolate 5k.” How could I say no to that?
So now, I am expanding my view of myself. I’m a runner. It seems a little strange to wear that name and I’m not entirely comfortable with that image yet, but I am thankful for the opportunity to learn something new about myself.
Think about the limits you place on yourself by how you define yourself? How can you expand your view of who you are today?