Monday, May 30, 2011

Do You Know Who You Are?

Comedian Woody Allen says, "My one regret in life is that I am not someone else."
I heard of one man who took trying to be someone else too seriously. Newspapers reported that Dutch police arrested a man in the town of Rosendaal. They found him in possession of 186 false papers, including 29 Nigerian passports, 30 British passports, 74 Dutch work permits, 12 British driving licenses, 18 birth or death certificates, 2 British student cards, an international driving license and 20 forged checks. Once he was in custody, they still had a problem. They weren’t sure who he was.

I have no regrets that I'm not someone else. But that doesn't mean I've always been clear about just who I am. I like the way A. A. Milne's “Winnie the Pooh” (THE WORLD OF POOH) puts it:

"How can you get very far,
If you don't know who you are? 
How can you do what you ought,
If you don't know what you've got?"
One man said, “I go to a doctor and pay him 75 dollars an hour, and all he does is ask me the same question my father used to ask me all the time: ‘Who do you think you are, anyway?’” But that's not a bad question, really. How can you get very far, if you don't know who you are?

I think I spent the first 20 or 30 years of my life trying to define who I really was. I thought I’d never know what to study in school and I was sure I’d never figure out what kind of person I might be happy spending my life with. I managed to get through that phase of life and then, just when I thought I knew myself fairly well, I discovered I’d changed. And through the years I keep changing. It seems like I’ve always been up against the question, “Who am I -- really?”

I appreciate Benjamin Kubelski’s story. In 1902, his father gave him a violin for his eighth birthday. It cost $50, a small fortune in those days, and especially for a recently immigrated Russian family. Benjamin did well and was playing concerts as a teenager. At age 18 he teamed up with a woman pianist as a musical team in Vaudeville.

But he suspected the violin did not satisfy his heart’s desire. Then one night, Benjamin impulsively decided to tell the audience about a funny incident that had happened during the day. He later said, “The audience laughed and the sound intoxicated me. That laughter ended my days as a musician.” And it began his life career as entertainer Jack Benny.

He found who he was and everything fit into place. How can you get very far, if you don't know who you are?

But how do you figure out who you are? Short of taking a battery of aptitude and personality tests (which, by the way, do have their place), there are two simple and accurate ways of knowing yourself better.

First, ask someone who loves you. Ask her to describe you in as much detail as she can. Her opinion may not be conclusive, but others see us differently than we see ourselves.

And second, pay attention to what stirs your emotions. I sometimes ask people, “What do you like to do so much that you would do it for free if you could?” What makes your heart sing?

How can you get very far, if you don't know who you are? Answer these simple questions and I think you’ll know.

-- Steve Goodier


Anonymous said...

My favorite quote of all time, which could fit in here, somewhere, is Soren Kierkegaard's "Life can only be understood backward, but must be lived forward."

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This is a read I have needed for a long time!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this!

Steve Goodier said...

I love Kierkegaard's thinking. Thanks for the quote.