To Be, Or Who I Was Meant To Be: That Is the Question

I have always felt that there is who I am, and who I was meant to be. – steadily skipping stones

Earlier this month, averageinsuburbia wrote a compelling blog post about life and happiness: Who Said Life Was Supposed To Be Happy? That led to my friend over at steadily skipping stones writing her own follow-up happiness post entitled: Is Life Supposed To Be Happy? Both blog writers often challenge my ideas and cause me to think deeper about certain issues. Skipping stones’ quote above made me pause at the time, and all weekend I thought about identity and acceptance.

Averageinsuburbia’s original question (who said life was supposed to be happy?) caused me to nod my head in agreement, mainly because anytime someone uses the words “supposed to” there’s a part of me that immediately wants to do the opposite. Perhaps it’s my inner rebel, or all those years of having to keep to a rigid schedule as a elementary school teacher, but I have to agree with the thoughts behind the question.

Of course everyone would like their lives to be happy ones, but a lot of times they aren’t. I think the tough times are important, and teach us to appreciate happiness when it does appear. Some of the strongest, smartest, most interesting people I know are the ones who’ve had to overcome huge obstacles in their lives, especially when they were children or young adults.

And, besides, what is happiness? Safety? Comfort? Satisfaction? Not worrying? I don’t know if it’s possible to be truly happy all the time.

After a lifetime of wanting, wondering, and striving to be happy, I think for me it’s nothing more than acceptance of what is. It means not fighting the things I can’t change. It sounds simplistic, but I really believe it comes down to that.

So what does this have to do with who I am versus who I was meant to be?

When I was fifteen, on the cusp of adulthood, I remember struggling with who I was. I spent hours each night scribbling in my journal, knowing I was just a few years away from independence. My life could take off in any number of directions. I couldn’t wait. I had so many dreams for the future, but I was also shy and nerdy, and didn’t know which parts of my personality and interests were the real me.

At fifteen, I really didn’t know who I was. But now, looking back, I haven’t changed all that much, even though I think I know myself well. Is there a core part of each person that never changes, even though the circumstances of our lives do?

A few weekends ago Michael and I worked a water stop at a local race. I was having fun, being silly with my friends and the runners, and enjoying the day. Michael said to me later, “See, that’s the real you, the one who’s extroverted and having fun and not worrying about anything.” He never believes me when I tell him I’m an introvert and not comfortable at parties or in large crowds.

His whole idea of a “real” me is bothersome. I like to think that the quiet me can co-exist with the outgoing goofball me, that they can be two sides of the same coin. Why does the real me have to be outgoing and fun, not quiet and introspective? Why is one more real than the other?

The real me?

To me, thinking there’s a person you were meant to be, someone other than who you really are, displays a certain dissatisfaction, a yearning for something you consider to be better. I’ve never met steadily skipping stones, but I know I would like her if we ever met in person. From her thoughtful, insightful blog posts I can tell she’s smart, caring, honest, earnest, introspective, and not afraid to ask the big questions. She’s a great person, and the fact that she struggles to be something beyond who she is speaks volumes about how much she cares.

But it also makes me sad because I happen to like who she is, and hate that she feels she was meant to be anything more than who she already is.

If the person you were meant to be means you should be doing great things with your life, do those peripheral actions make you a better person? If who you are is measured by what you do, are you a lesser person if you’re satisfied with your life and your actions? Should you always be striving to be a better person? Who determines what is “better?”

This is a slippery slope indeed. I’ve always ascribed to the idea that actions are stronger than words. I once loved someone who would tell me twenty times a day how much he loved me, but did things that showed me otherwise. I told him his words were meaningless. I’d rather have someone treat me with care and kindness and never declare his love.  I need something I can hold onto, and sometimes words just don’t cut it.

He was a good person, but I expected more than he expected from himself. I knew I couldn’t change him, or force him to be a better partner, and I ended the relationship. The problem was mine because I couldn’t accept who he was. It wasn’t enough for me. I only saw who he was meant to be–but it was my idea of “meant to be,” not his.

Kind of like he was “supposed to” be a certain way with me.

So I’m a hypocrite. I’m not always satisfied with who I am. I want to be a better person. I want to be more patient, more optimistic, more accepting. I’m still working on it. I think most people are doing the same.

But I honestly don’t know if there’s a person I was meant to be or not. With all apologies to Hamlet’s soliloquy, is it better to just be, or to strive for more?

What do you think? Do you think there’s a person you were meant to be?

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17 comments

  1. westerner54

    So interesting. I guess I don’t think in terms of a “meant to be’ person out there, since that seems to imply some greater power who put me in motion with a specific goal, and that just doesn’t mesh with my non-believing soul. But, I do find myself always trying to find that balance between accepting – and liking – who I am, while still striving to be better (which is probably the same as the “meant to be” person.) As I get older I seem to have more and more days when I can just be more in the moment, and let the striving go for a while – which I hope is a good thing. The happiness thing is interesting too..

    • Mind Margins

      The religious angle also came up in my thinking, and I wonder if those who feel the most drawn towards the person they were meant to be are religious, and I’m not. Maybe we also start to become more comfortable with who we are as we get older because, like you, I don’t worry as much about not “living up to my potential” (whatever that is). You should check out the posts that spurred the conversations and read the comments.

  2. joannevalentinesimson

    This meditation is thoughtful and thought-provoking. I’ve had a lot of years to think about who I am and who I “should be,” and I can’t get away from the idea that, in the final analysis, we ARE the sum-total of all our ACTIONS and thoughts. And if thought doesn’t lead to behavior, then it’s a bit beside the point. It’s the tension between being and doing. We ARE in a static state; we DO in a dynamic way.

    • Mind Margins

      I have to agree that I’m the sum total of all my actions and thoughts. Everything I’ve done, thought, said, and experienced has made me who I am today. It doesn’t mean that I can’t change, but the past will have an effect. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  3. skippingstones

    You are so sweet and I have often thought that, if we met in person, I’d give you a big hug and we’d start right off talking as though we’d been neighbors for life.

    I have had that feeling for a long time, and it’s hard for me to articulate what it’s all about for me. I am a lazy, un-energetic, fearful, sit in my rut kind of person. I have wanted things for myself that I have been unwilling to go after – for those and other reasons. I have wanted to be more, in my career and in my personal life, that I was unwilling to strive for. I let myself down all the time. Most of my resolutions revolve around these very things – the things that I wish for myself, but haven’t had the will power or resolve to go after.

    But deeper than that is the sad part of it that you mentioned – that I’m simply just not satisfied with who I am. I would not, under any circumstances, be anyone but myself. In a weird way, I love who I am. I love my mind and my emotions, because they are me, and I would not want to lose myself. At the same time, I find myself severely lacking. I hate to tell people what I do, because I feel that it’s inadequate. I know tons of people, my age and older, with college degrees (which I don’t have), who do the same job I do. I don’t think of them as anything lacking or unsuccessful. But I see myself that way.

    I think it’s partly a result of how much was expected of my future. And how little I’ve done with myself. I was brought up being kind of told, and believing, that I would do great things. This despite my personality, which is to sit tight, not dare, stay in the same job until something forces me out, etc. Anyway…

    • Mind Margins

      I’ve said this before, but you’re so hard on yourself. I bet 99% of the population on earth has felt the same way you do at one time or another in their lives. I know I have. I don’t know how you can say you’re lazy when you work full time and still manage to keep a thriving blog. Writing is extremely time consuming and takes a lot out of you, especially mentally and emotionally. And your blog, by the way, is excellent. You’re selling yourself short. Don’t let your paying job define you. You’re soooooo much more than that.

  4. skippingstones

    About the happiness part, I love that you asked the question, “what is happiness?” I am not surprised that you said acceptance, as you’ve talked about that before. Mine is contentment (which, given my comment above, also makes perfect sense). Which, now that I think about it, is also acceptance – accepting myself and being satisfied with who I am. At this point, for me that means striving to be more than I am now. Or, in clearer terms, going after things I say I want for myself, instead of just sitting here and wishing things were different.

    In my post, I was talking about overall happiness with yourself and your life, and I agree with everyone who has said that you can’t be happy all the time. I think you can be happy overall with your life situation, but have hardships and unhappy times within that framework.

    Your thoughts and questions about who we are really, and the two sides of the same coin, deserve more thought and consideration than I can give them in your comment section. I have some notes about “who I am” from something else I read months ago, too. Maybe we’ll give that topic a go-round, huh? I think we’re all multiple selves, multiple sides, all in one body. But different emotions and situations and even people bring out the different sides of who we are. Also, I think that so much of what I feel is simple chemistry. Based on my eating trends in these past months, I firmly believe that the chemicals I put in my body via food really effect my emotions – my body chemistry. I will also have to look up some old posts of mine, where we had all talked about having these multiple sides of ourselves, and whether or not that was like being fake or dishonest.

    • Mind Margins

      I also think different people bring out different parts of ourselves. My best friends have always been people who are more gregarious and outgoing than I am, people who aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves and not take life too seriously. They bring out my inner extrovert and carefree soul. When I’m with someone who’s more like the “real” me (quiet, for instance) I feel I need to fill those quiet spaces with chatter and energy.

      As for happiness, I know it when I feel it, and I’m okay with it not being there all the time. I think contentment and acceptance are also flip sides of the same coin, so we’re pretty much on the same page.

  5. skippingstones

    One last thing, maybe (you have so much here to talk about!): “If the person you were meant to be means you should be doing great things with your life, do those peripheral actions make you a better person? If who you are is measured by what you do, are you a lesser person if you’re satisfied with your life and your actions?”

    I do think a lot of what I feel is based on “doing great things” with my life. Even if that just means doing something creative (photography, writing) rather than working in a store. I don’t think that being a photographer would make me a better person, and certainly don’t think it would make me better than anyone who likes or is satisfied with working in a store. I just think it would make me a more fulfilled person. It would not be a peripheral thing for me at all, it would be living a passion. Rather than having a job.

    For some people, I know some personally, working in a store is their passion. That is what makes them happy. It just doesn’t make me happy.

    I often think that I’m wrong to put so much emotional and importance on what I do for a living. I wonder if I was married and had kids, would I find my contentment and fulfillment there? But the thing is, I don’t have a husband or kids. I have a dog and a job. And only one of those things makes me happy.

    • Mind Margins

      I absolutely agree, something like photography would not be a peripheral action, it would be a passion, which is a completely different thing. I think our passions are what we should be spending our lives engaged in. How to do so, and make a living doing it, is the hard part.

      By peripheral I meant things we do that define us–like our jobs–that may not truly be very meaningful, but that other people may think of as being important. For instance, there are many people who give money to charity, but they aren’t necessarily doing it because they care or have outstanding moral values (even though society may view it as such). They may be using the charity as a tax break, or they give money because it’s expected of them.

      Gosh, this is such a huge, convoluted topic.

      And Louis is a great dog!

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  8. averageinsuburbia

    It has taken me a while to reply to this post because it hits to the core of my life right now. It is essential to happiness to know who you are, I think, and I absolutely do not feel I’m the person I was ‘meant to be’. The fact is, however, I am what I am. It’s much like the famous John Lennon quote, “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”. So do I find contentment in that? At this point in my life I feel that would be a mistake.
    I very much can relate to Michelle’s words when she says she feels like she didn’t live up to her potential with no one to blame but herself. I understand completely the feeling of having to kick yourself in the butt and say, “Come on now! You can do it!” In my situation, it is a little hard to buck expectations people have of me- they are used to the person who sits quietly and that is TOTALLY unlike my 15 year old self. Writing this blog is surprising to many people (except my family, they know I’m nuts) but it is the most authentic thing I’ve done for a long, long time.
    This is a huge, huge and you are right- convoluted- subject and if we could figure it out we would be robbing therapists of a source of much of their income!

    • Mind Margins

      The subject is so big, and I kept finding myself going off on tangents when I was writing the post. The only person who ever put pressure on me to live up to my potential was myself, so maybe that’s why I don’t feel that same drive to be the person I was “meant to be” like you and Michelle. I’ve had to learn to be my own drill sergeant/cheerleader–and I’m pretty tough on myself. I also always wanted to teach, since I was a little girl, so being able to do that has brought a lot of satisfaction. Maybe making the dream of being a teacher means, in my mind, that I did become the person I was meant to be. Or maybe that’s not it at all. After doing what I always wanted to do for 20 years, I now feel the urge to do something more for ME, and to make my mark, so to speak, in a different, more creative, way. Maybe the blog satisfies some of that. If only I had a lot of money . . .

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  10. Gunta

    Having reached a “certain” age, I’ve come to believe that acceptance or contentment seems to arrive once you give up striving for so many things that don’t add value to your life. This topic is so deep, I’m not sure I want to do more than dip my toes in for now, but….
    One thing that struck me was the brief mention you made of the introverted v. extroverted selves. I’ve had the same experience of being (more and more) uncomfortable in crowds. I like a lot of time to myself and yet I can be totally goofy and outgoing when given the right circumstances. My husband was a total extrovert who hated being alone. Ever. I have never quite figured out what made him tick. It always struck me as some sort of pent up energy beyond my grasp.
    Then again I have this theory that many bloggers tend to lean toward the introvert spectrum. Many folks I’ve connected to here in the bloggy world seem to prefer that engagement at a slight remove. Not all the time, but much of it.
    Such is my two cents worth… 😉

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Yes, I agree with that. I think most writers, in general, tend to be more introspective and introverted than the average person. I would think you would have to be to sit for hours at a time, going inward, to gather your thoughts and put them on paper. A more extroverted person would probably rather say the words and talk about the issues rather than write them down.

      The topic of acceptance is one that keeps circling back around in my life. Huge topic!

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