“Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?”
That's the question Pete Townsend asked in the English rock group, The Who's, title song from their 1978 album by the same name. And that's the question I'm asking you today. Who are you, Really? “I really wanna know.”
Most people in our society have numerous identities. This is a function of society and the pressures we face from childhood through our entire lives. So, this week's tip is basically about being yourself.
Who Are You Really?
You may be saying to yourself, “What's your problem, Ed? Don't you know who you are? I know who I am.” And my reply to you is, do you really know who you are? I've quoted Shakespeare's famous lines from Hamlet before:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Here is the reality. Virtually every person alive, and most especially in our Western culture, have multiple identities. Oh sure, we think we're being who we really are, but . . . We're not!
So, if we're not being ourselves, who are we? Well, let's see, let me list some of the identities we adopt. We have distinct identities to:
- Our parents and family
- Our friends
- Our teachers
- Our religious relationships (if we are involved in a religion)
- Our professors (if we attended college)
- Our classmates
- Our closest friends/buddies
- Our spouse
- Our children
- Our employer
- Our managers/supervisors
- Our co-workers/colleagues
- Our customers/clients
- Our special interest/club/organization connections
- Our social club/organizations
- Our professional organizations
- Our neighbors
- Our vendors/merchants
- And there are likely additional identities
You are shaking your head and saying, “This guy is bonkers?” You really think so?
Okay, I'm only going to give you a few examples of how these identities work. Here are the questions to ask yourself to reveal your different identities.
Do you react to your parents the way you're sure they want to believe you are? Or, do you relate to them the way you related to your school/college/fraternity-sorority friends?
If you went to an event like Mardi Gras in like New Orleans, and you're a woman, would you “flash” in public in front of your preacher or priest if he or she was with you or would you be more reserved?
Do you talk to your children and relate to them the same way you talk to or relate to your co-workers/colleagues or customers/clients?
Are you doing what you REALLY want to be doing for a living or are you doing what you have probably been guided to do by parents, teachers of others or even by responsibility and obligation? Why aren't you doing what you really want to do to earn a living?
Are you living in the kind of location, house, environment you really want to live or are you living there because your spouse and/or children want to live there or you feel they deserve to live there? What's wrong with where you might actually want to live?
When you met the person who ultimately became your spouse (if you're married), were you REALLY who you are or were you who you felt he or she wanted to meet and get to know?
Do you dress the way you really want to dress or is your attire dictated by the job and social groups you're involved with?
Would the friends and neighbors you associate with be the same if you were living where you really want to live, enjoying the lifestyle you really want to enjoy and doing the work that gives you great pleasure? Or, would they be different?
That should be enough to make my point. Here is the reality! We begin playing the roles we ultimately adopt as our multiple personas as children. Here are some more things to consider.
You may want your parents to believe you're the little angel they see you as, but are you really a bully to your friends? Are you a team player on the little league or soccer teams or do you have to be the captain? In your professional/occupational career, are you content to just show up and do whatever you are assigned to do or do you want to/need to work your way up the ladder to be the “boss” regardless of who you have to step on to climb that ladder.
Are you driven by a spouse, partner or parent to achieve a certain educational degree, enter a certain profession or develop a prestigious reputation – in other words, status? Do you buy into communities, drive specific brands and models of vehicles, own a second vacation property, belong to a country club or a specific social club to associate with the people in those organizations or because you need to impress family, friends and professional associates.
I doubt there is a person at any strata of our Western cultural society who can say they are completely true to themselves. A lot of it is ego driven. A lot of it is from a variety of peer, parental and societal pressure. It just is what it is.
Are You Happy In All Your Identities?
So, this is really the big question? Are you living YOUR life or are you living the lives of what you feel others expect of you?
Are you really happy with your life exactly the way it is? You may be so accustomed to kidding yourself and sublimating your true identity and desires that you really don't know who the real you is anymore? You may fain happiness, but in fact, deep down inside your heart of hearts, you know you're not. The statistics bear this out. These are the things that cause people to have extramarital affairs, under perform in their jobs, sometimes become reclusive, go into the depths of depression, resort to alcohol and drugs, overeat and gain too much weight, run away and, of course, the most destructive action, the action my own father took, commit suicide.
Are you really you? Or, have you been role playing to meet the expectations of who you believe others expect you to be? Maybe you're a lawyer. Maybe it wasn't your interest or dream to be a lawyer, but your parents wanted you to be a lawyer because it's a high status profession and typically provides a considerably higher than average income. They, of course, wanted the best for you and your life. So, you went to college, then law school and you passed the bar exam. You became a lawyer. But, you never wanted to be a lawyer.
Everyday was drudgery to get up, go to the office and face all the work you didn't enjoy. But, because you became a lawyer, you married well. You moved into an upper class neighborhood. You associated with all the “beautiful people” and belonged to all the right social organizations. But, the longer you continued this life, the more you despised it and everything related to it.
But, gee! Look at all the money you're making. Doesn't that compensate and provide opportunities for happiness? You've heard it before. Money cannot buy happiness. It can make life comfortable, even luxurious. But, does that translate to happiness? No! It doesn't.
I knew a man who was in precisely this situation. One day, he finally had enough. He either sold his law practice or just shut it down. He bought a little greasy spoon diner/cafe. He was the short order cook. He didn't make anywhere near as much money. But, this is what he really wanted to do. He loved cooking. He loved diner food. He enjoyed the people who came to eat at diners. He lived for hearing people say they enjoyed his food. His wife was not happy about all this. They really didn't fit into the social circle she had become accustomed to and the lifestyle a lawyer's income provided. He died very young, only a couple years after he made his life change. But, at least he got to enjoy and live the life of the real person he was.
I had another friend who had several degrees, became a city manager, was extremely brilliant. He left the public sector and began writing books, conducting seminars, publishing his own books and consulting with public and private sector organizations. He kept adding more and more to his plate searching for that elusive commodity – himself. He enjoyed what he was doing, but still wasn't happy, just driven and overworking himself. He went through a couple marriages and was married to his third wife.
He knew about my dream of being free and wandering the country and maybe the world as a vagabond in an RV. So, one year, he and his third wife rented a motor home over the Christmas holiday season. They both fell in love with the lifestyle and the freedom and they felt happy. In his case, it was possibly for the first time in his life. They sold the very large, custom home they had where their offices were also located. They had a second house in a commercial district, they parked the new $250,000 motor home in front of that house and lived in it full-time when they weren't traveling somewhere in the U.S.
They eliminated many of the things they were doing in business and pared down to only what they really enjoyed and gained fulfillment from. He had become a part-time park ranger in a state park near where they lived. He loved putting on his ranger uniform and taking people on tours of the park. I, affectionately, called him Ranger Roger. I believe Roger was probably a “closet” park ranger his entire life and IF he would have been honest with himself, that might have been his lifetime career and he would have had a happy life.
Roger died from complications of a rare auto-immune disease not even two years after they bought their beautiful “condo on wheels.” He was only 61. But, at least he finally found things that made him happy and he was finding himself before he died.
These are only two of many stories of friends I've known who are examples of what I've been talking about. And there are just as many women as men who live these, as Thoreau termed them, “. . . lives of quiet desperation.” And you know them, too. And, if you're honest, you're one of them unless you've finally discovered the real you and chosen to forsake your false identities to be yourself.
Who Are You? I Really Wanna Know.
I don't care if you're 85, 65, 45, 25 or anywhere in that spectrum. Maybe you're a college student getting deeper in debt with student loans, studying something you've been directed to because it will provide a great income and job security when (we need to include an “if” in here, too) you get a job in your chosen field of study, whether it's what you really want to do or not. You've been drilled about getting all this education because it's necessary to be successful (by whose definition?).
Maybe you're a high school student or the parents of a high school student and the young person doesn't know what he or she wants to do in adult life. The greatest thing you can do for your high school student or any high school student is help them dream. Help them discover who he or she REALLY is. I know there are likely millions of people out in the world who are doing things they don't want to be doing. But, they were guided down various paths by people who never cared about what these people really wanted. Everybody has been trying to be who everyone else thinks he or she should be instead of who he or she really is. Most young people at 15, 16 and 17 years old, when being pressured to make a decision about who and what they want to be in life, are not even close to ready for that kind of decision.
I was one of them. I earned a degree in education, but never wanted to be a teacher. , My father directed me that way. I never taught in any formal educational system. I discovered what I loved while I was in college and that was the recording industry. That was the field I ultimately made my career in, but not without going on to earn an advanced degree in TV and radio. I never actually worked in either TV or radio, either. All my education in the recording industry was on my own and from OJT (on the job training) I learned in my own businesses.
When it was time for my son to make those difficult decisions, he was smart enough (maybe from being around me, not because I'm that smart, but because I did my best to let him try things and seek out his own dreams) to know he didn't know where he wanted to go in life, yet. So, he chose to forego college to explore, experiment and try some things to see if he liked them or not. He's since accumulated a number of college credits over the years, but still doesn't have a degree.
He's become very successful by most definitions of that word. He works shoulder to shoulder with people who have Ivy League MBAs and he earns the same kinds of salaries they do. However, he's also eliminated a lot of the false identities and just been himself. He is well-liked and well-respected. He's a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) person. He is who he is and it doesn't matter to him if you like him or not. He's basically true to himself. I've learned a lot from my son.
I meet other people like him regularly. Another of my friend's son was home schooled, chose not to attend college and today, he is an international trainer for Anthony “Tony” Robbins, a well-known author, corporate trainer and consultant.
The Bottom Line
It's time to implement Tip #10 to simplify your life, Be Yourself!
This may sound simple, but it's not going to necessarily be as simple you you think. First, you have to be 100% honest with yourself. You have to examine every facet of your life including your work, social, lifestyle, finances, material stuff, relationships, etc. You have to be completely true to yourself. What was and is the life you would have had and can still have if you heed Shakespeare's words, “To thine own self be true.”
Are you willing to give up the work you're currently doing, especially if you're not happy in it? Are you willing to give up your lifestyle for the lifestyle that is really more in line with what you have always wanted? Are you willing to relocate wherever it might be to pursue your real life and identity? Can you live on less, a more frugal lifestyle, if that's part of the change? Can you give up all the material stuff you've become accustomed to, if necessary? Can you accept being potentially ostracized by your current social circle because you may not have the same status they demand to associate with them? And here's the biggie. Are you willing to sacrifice relationships to reveal the real you and live true to who you really are? This could be as extreme as severing ties with family members, friends, your spouse and even your own offspring.
That's a tough order. But, evaluate your current life? ARE YOU FREE TO BE YOUR REAL SELF? Or, do you have to continue having multiple personas to relate to all these aspects and people in your life? ARE YOU HAPPY the way your life is and has been for, probably, years or, more likely, decades. If you change nothing, will your life become simpler? If you change nothing, will the expectations of who everyone expects you to be, to and for them, be any simpler? If you change nothing, will any of the people in your life change to make your life simpler, freer and happier?
So, the choices are to, finally, just be yourself and dumping all the other personas and meeting up to everyone else's expectations, which will simplify your life. That will lead to more freedom, happiness, fulfillment and contentment. The other choice is to keep everything the way it is and live out the rest of your life just as you are never knowing what it would have been like to “just be yourself.” It's your life. You actually don't owe anything to anyone else except to be the best you that you can be. And, you can never be the best you that you can be, if you're always role playing the multiple personas to meet everyone else's expectations and acceptance. As always, the choice is yours. Tip #10 Be Yourself.
Live free and be happy. EH