Have you wondered what defines you?
Are you defined by the place you were born or by the color of your skin?
Are you defined by a particular physical trait – the color of your eyes or hair; or your weight or height, perhaps?
Are you defined by your physical possessions – the neighborhood you live in or the car you drive; or how many zeros your bank account has?
Maybe what defines you is a character trait – courage, cowardice, ambition or mediocrity.
At first, when we ask ourselves what defines us, usually the first thing that comes to mind is how we think OTHER people might define us; which is completely irrelevant.
However, it’s highly useful to ask ourselves this question in order find a personal and individual answer, and ultimately, to make a choice.
Because our minds crave for structure in everything we do, see and hear and about everything we experience.
When we are not provided with a comprehensive structure of our reality, we either make it up according to our current beliefs or ignore the matter altogether as if it doesn’t exist.
Structure and Prejudice
This happens every time we meet a new person. If we are not immediately provided with a structured set of data about this person – we know by a fact that he is a brave, ambitious individual, that his career has skyrocketed and how much money he made last year – we take a guess. Often we call it prejudice, but is nothing more than our hunger for structure.
Prejudice is simply a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience, which is not necessarily a bad thing and it might even be right. But is a guess we make when we have no data or factual information available.
We prejudge everyone we meet until such prejudices are either confirmed or debunked by new insights about that person.
In the same way, everyone we meet is prejudging us.
The thing is, if we do not build a competent, coherent structure about who we are and what define us, we tend to look for structure in other’s opinions about ourselves.
Responsibility and Choice
To define ourselves is a conscious choice. But few people make such a choice, and to a certain extent, it is understandable.
To take the wheel of your true identity and set the rules by which you choose to live your life requires a great deal of courage and it means that you become fully responsible for your actions and for the consequences of such actions. This might sound like something most people do, but it is not. Most people prefer to relinquish the ability to define themselves in order to avoid the responsibility it carries.
When you define yourself it becomes clear what you have to do, and it also becomes clear when you are not doing what you should do.
It is an enlightening experience, but many people prefer to remain in the darkness because they fear they won’t like what they will see when the light shine.
If, for example, you conclude you are defined by your physical possessions, but you are broke, the sense of failure and hopelessness can become unbearable.
If, on the other hand, you conclude that you are defined by your religion, but your behavior is contrary to what such religion advises, internal conflict is unavoidable.
What Defines You?
It is understandable that we might fear taking the first step towards making such an important decision. Sometimes we feel comfortable in not deciding at all and ignorance becomes a warm blanket.
But not deciding is by itself a choice. We chose to give away our ability to define who we are. In order to avoid drafting the rules, we end up playing by the rules of someone else’s game.
Another clear benefit that comes out of deciding what defines us is clarity. Once we know the rules that govern our life, making further decisions becomes incredibly easy.
After we define ourselves, decision-making is like cooking with a recipe book.
People define themselves and others, by many aspects. But there are a few common ones:
By Social and/or cultural characteristics (i.e. Social status, nationality, race): You can choose to be defined by your social and/or cultural characteristics; which is not necessarily related to wealth.
Some people consider themselves to be defined by their last names, especially when they belong to prominent families. They might be wealthy or not, they might have contributed to academic or social matters, they might become great athletes, but they will always feel defined by their social characteristics.
Others might define themselves by their race or nationality above everything else.
By physical possessions (i.e. Money, cars, real estate, etc.): You can choose to be defined by the quality and/or quantity of physical objects you possess. I warn you, this is a crowded place.
People who chose to be defined by their physical possessions become the guy or girl who drives the Ferrari; or the owner of the (big) house at the end of the street.
By what you do (i.e. Career, profession, hobby or motherhood, fatherhood, etc.): You can choose to be defined by what you do most of the time; usually, your career or profession; but you can also be defined by being a mother or a father or a housewife.
People who chose to be defined by what they do most of the time introduce themselves as the lawyer, the doctor or the postman. They might be courageous, empathetic individuals, they might possess many positive characteristics, but they will always see themselves as what they do.
By what you believe (i.e. Ideas, beliefs, religion): You can choose to be defined by the things you believe in. By your political affiliation or view about the economy and economic systems, by your faith or by your religion.
People who choose to be defined by the things they believe might be great professionals, amazing parents, might have different levels of income and wealth, but all of these pale in comparison with the passion they exhale when they talk about the things they believe in. You won’t remember her as the lawyer; you will remember her as the capitalist or the Christian.
By what you want (i.e. Goals, dreams, desires): You can choose to be defined by your ambitions, by what you want to do or by who you want to become. If you do so, eventually you will be defined by what you do (assuming you reach your goal) if you find fulfillment in such activity. Otherwise, you will come up with a new goal or dream to chase.
People who chose to be defined by their desire are those who have a clear goal or dreams in sight and are willing to do what it takes to make it happen, to work around the clock if they have to, to sacrifice everything in order to achieve their dreams.
By your choices: Maybe this is the most ethereal way to define yourself. To be defined by your choices is not as clear as to be defined by the car you drive, or by the house you own or by your religion or race.
With every choice, a new question arises: Are you doing the right thing (according to your beliefs)? Are you taking the high road or the easy path?
It takes a little more work and a great deal of self-examination, but I think the personal reward of putting in the effort worth it.
I don’t think any of the above options are better or worse than the others, as long as you choose consciously.
By doing so, you can gain a great deal of clarity and purpose. This alone, choosing how to define yourself, can become the difference between mediocrity or average performance and mastery.
If you choose to be defined by your physical possessions, your actions will be focused very differently than if you chose to be defined by your religion. If you focus on achieving your goal of becoming a famous singer or world-renowned writer, the actions you will take will be very different of those you would if you have chosen to be defined by your political affiliation.
You might live your whole life without choosing at all. Actually, most people don’t make such a choice. But living a life without defining ourselves exposes us to be defined and influenced by other’s opinions. In the same way, not defining ourselves deprives us of focusing our beliefs, thoughts, ideas and ultimately, our actions towards our purpose.
Like Bruce Lee said: “The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus“.
I Am My Choices
This is the way I have chosen to define myself: by the decisions I make.
This doesn’t mean I am completely oblivious of all the other aspects previously mentioned: I proud of my nationality, I enjoy the things I own, I am passionate about my career and I have dreams and goals.
But none of these things define me.
If I lose everything I own, if everything I know becomes useless and, for some reason, all my dreams and goals become impossible to achieve, it would be painful but it won’t affect my identity because those things do not define me.
The choices I make do.
So, how do you choose to define yourself? The above are just a few ways that come to mind, but if you define yourselves in any other way, please share it!
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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like Who Are You?, Fear of Missing Out and The Fantasy of Everything, and Become The Masterpiece You Are Looking For. Check them out and let me know what you think!
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