Saturday, June 2, 2012

Define Thyself

When you're introduced to someone, when you have to write a description of yourself, or even when you are just doing a bit of self-evaluation, how do you define yourself?  There are any number of ways in which people see themselves and I think many would take a multifaceted approach, but in the day to day, how do you see yourself?  There is certainly a discrepancy for most between the way the outside would would define them and how they define themselves.  Part of that is because we present ourselves a certain way to others and it is not necessarily the way we are when in the comfort of our own homes.  After all, anytime personal interaction is at play, there is always a certain degree of putting on your best foot forward.  I'm digressing.  Let's try a different approach.
Normally, when I'm introduced to someone and they ask what I do, I default to saying that I'm a firefighter.  It is my primary occupation and so probably makes the most sense, but it is not the only answer I could give.  After all, I write novels and get paid.  It is certainly something I care a great deal about and to which I dedicate a large portion of my life.  When you think about it though, they didn't ask me what I did to make make money.  They asked what I do.  I could make a strong argument that the most important endeavor in my life and the thing that takes up the large majority of my time is being a father.  I don't think it has once occurred to me to give that answer.  I also take care of animals (three dogs and a guinea pig), I do yard work, I attempt to loose weight and stay in shape, I play ultimate Frisbee and fumble with a guitar.  So why choose firefighter and what does that say about how I view myself, how I define myself?  What does it mean about the definition I present to others?  There are a number of simple reasons why firefighter is my default answer, but should it be?
Let's take a hypothetical example and break it down.  What if you are a lawyer?  You introduce yourself as such and even your correspondence has the old esq. accompanying your signature.  Seems logical to attach a barrister label to your self definition, but how meaningful is it really?  It might be quite significant.  You might a have a deep passion for the law.  You might love your work and dedicate a great deal of time toward your job.  Maybe you thrive on debate in the courtroom and at home.  Your bookshelves are lined with John Grisham and Michael Connelly.  In that case I would say that being a lawyer might be a good way to define you.  What if, however, you became a lawyer because the money's good?  What if you do your job, do it well, but live for the weekend when you can sail, read romance novels, or run marathons?  How meaningful is that definition of you now?
There is certainly a practical side to all this and I realize that in normal everyday conversation if someone asked you what you do and you answer with "I read romance novels," they are going to think you are strange.  They are expecting you to tell them what you do to make money.  But why are they asking?  I would attest that the reason they are asking is to get a better idea of who you are and to most, a person's occupation is the best way to elicit that information.  But if you are a lawyer who spends every free moment you have reading romance books, which is more meaningful to understanding who you are is a person?
Personally, I have a hard time defining myself mostly because I feel like I'm in a constant state of flux.  I am a firefighter.  I worked very hard to become one and I love my job.  I look forward to going to work and spend nearly of third of my life there.  But then again, it's only a small part of who I am.  I don't spend a great deal of my remaining two thirds absorbed by firefighting.  I know many firefighters who do and for them, I would be more apt to define them as a firefighter.  They volunteer at firehouses on their days off, they really only talk about the job, they read almost exclusively fire related material.  A firefighter is who they are. 
So, how do I define myself?  Perhaps if I take some of the major facets of my life and ask two simple questions.  If "this" was taken away, how would you feel and what would you do?  Okay, so if I could no longer be a firefighter...I would be disappointed and if I couldn't find a way to write full time, I would have to get another job.  If I could no longer write books...I would be crushed and probably go a little crazy.  Can I write poems?  Haiku's maybe?  Can I take up painting letter shapes?  What if I were no longer a father...my heart would be broken and I would be a lost soul.
Hmm, what should I take from this?  Other than the fact that I think a bit of self analysis is always beneficial to keeping your priorities straight and setting goals for your life that will make you happy, I don't know.  Maybe I should start introducing myself differently.  Maybe I shouldn't.  Definitely food for thought.  I put it on you.  How would you define me?  How would you define yourself?

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Scarlet Hopewell