“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” ~Patrick Rothfuss
Who am I?
I believe this is one of the hardest questions we can ever answer.
I began to ponder this tough question in my early twenties during what I refer to as my “early-life crisis.”
Man, I was stuck. Stuck working in an unfulfilling job. Stuck in ever-growing debt because of my bad habits of drinking and smoking. Stuck feeling anxious and unconfident. I woke up each day and felt as if I was just going through the motions. Powerless. I was a puppet, and life was a cruel puppeteer.
Each night, I’d escape into the world of adventure movies and momentarily distract myself from my struggles. My personal favorites were Forest Gump and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as I look back, I see that the heroes in these movies taught me an important truth: Our identities are not fixed, and we can, in fact, reinvent ourselves.
Here are the three steps I took to do just that.
1. Recognize that I am more than my labels
My struggles began when I left formal education. After identifying as a student for so many years, I suddenly found myself in the “real world.”
It felt as if a rug had been pulled from beneath my feet. What now?
I fell into an office job working as an insurance salesman. My intuition told me the job wasn’t a good fit for me, but I lacked clarity on what my purpose was and who I really was.
Then one day, I was reminded of a quote I’d heard from Steven Fry. It reads, “We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing—an actor, a writer. I am a person who does things—I write, I act—and I never know what I’m going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”
It was strangely liberating, and butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I had the realization that I am not a noun.
My label of “insurance salesman” didn’t have to define me. Neither did any other labels I’d given myself or had been given.
My doctor had labeled me as “anxious.” I’d labeled myself as “stuck.” But “anxious” and “stuck” were simply feelings and not who I was. From this moment I changed “I am anxious and stuck” to “I feel anxious and stuck,” and in making this change I transformed from identifying as the experience to the experiencer.
This is who I believe we…