Sunday, January 31, 2010

Soul searching

I think that somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.
Eleanor Roosevelt

I saw the side of my cousin's mug one day in college and it said, "Don't discover yourself; create yourself." I thought, Hmmm, slightly intriguing and inspiring but something seems incredibly wrong about this idea. After almost ten years, I'm starting to understand what I dislike and disagree with about this statement. Although I do find it inspiring and I, to an extent, agree that you have control over who you are and how you react to the world and how you shape your own attitudes, I also disagree for almost the same reasons.
Who we are is due to our interactions with the world, to new challenges and perceptions we meet, and due to new experiences that force us to confront our true inner demons or hidden angels. Nobody can wake up one day, say This is who I am going to be! and instantly be that person... because he/she still doesn't really know who that person is. Unless that person has experienced a realm of problems, chaos, and luck, he/she can never really know who they are.
We realize who we are based on what we've done. We see a homeless man pan handling and we think, "Aww poor man" or "Hmm, get a job". We babysit a child and we either play naturally with him or her or we have trouble relating. We get into an argument with a friend and we dramatize the story or handle it diplomatically. But we can never really know how we will react in a situation until we are in that situation. (This is a lesson that took all my adult years thus far to learn.) Without these experiences that shape how we perceive the world, we can't decide who we want to be so in effect these moments are shaping our thoughts and thus, us.

Everyone I've met since college and every job and argument and failure has shaped how I see myself, how I perceive the world, and who I want to be. Without these experiences, I wouldn't have 'found' these characteristics I so admire in people that I want to see in myself. Without the people I've met and interacted with, I wouldn't have 'found' all the perceptions that have shaped my understanding of other people's suffering and joy. Without my travels and journeys, I wouldn't have 'found' this understanding of the world and the relationship and responsibilities I want to have with my global community.

I'm thankful for the room mates I had in college who helped me figure out how to cope and how I want to cope in times of stress. I'm thankful for the pilots I've met and debated with who shaped my perceptions of issues in the world. I'm thankful for the volunteers I've met in my travels who have shown me patience and how to balance a loving heart with a happy life--something I am striving to achieve everyday.

I agree that there will come moments in your life where you can choose how you want to react, what kind of attitude you want to exude, and thus who you want to be. But until you find yourself after experiencing as much as you can in this world, you won't know who you want to be nor how. After almost ten years since seeing that mug, I have been to Costa Rica and seen organic farms next to malnourished children; to New Orleans where I built homes next to a man who told me about his wife who died from stress caused by Katrina; and to the UK where my philosophies on politics, friendship, and love are constantly evolving. If you asked me when I was eighteen who I wanted to be, I might have answered, "Angelina Jolie" or "Martina McBride". Ask me now at twenty-seven and I might say, "Someone who is patient; someone who judges less and listens more; someone who knows what she doesn't know and asks the right questions."

So experience life; find yourself. For it wasn't until I started to find myself that I started to know who I wanted to be.

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