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?
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?
Is it possible there are things you have to give that you haven’t yet discovered?
Last week on television someone asked this question: How many gifts are in you? I wrote it down to think about later because I liked the idea of each person having gifts within themselves to give to the world.
I believe that people are intrinsically good. People can do horrific things, but there is always some kernel of goodness in each person. We make choices, and they aren’t always the right ones, but it’s up to us to work on finding the wisdom to make those choices from the place of goodness within ourselves.
I think even the most vile and evil persons have that same kernel of goodness within. It doesn’t excuse the choices they’ve made, or the fact that they may pay a high price for those choices, but there’s always the potential to find the good again and to be forgiven for those choices.
I love the idea that who we are–that which makes us us–can be seen as a gift. A gift to me is something that’s given without any expectation of gratitude or acknowledgement, something that doesn’t need your name attached to it.
Maybe it can be something as small as a smile you give to someone you don’t know, a door held open to the person behind you, or paying the lunch bill for the person sitting alone at the table next to yours.
These are small kindnesses, but kindness is a gift.
I can’t say that I’m always the nicest person, but I try. Thinking of my life as a series of gifts I can give to others makes me want to search for the gifts I’m not yet aware of. What are those gifts I have left to give? Are there others I don’t know about, that lie hidden so deeply, waiting until the time is right to be brought forth?
These are things I used to think about when I was fifteen, alone in my bedroom, wondering who I was and what I wanted my future life to look like. Is it possible that I haven’t figured it all out yet, that 35 years later I’m right back in the same place as that teenage girl, knowing it doesn’t matter where I am on this road, that I can focus and redirect my life in any direction I want to take it?
This is something I struggled with as a teacher of inner city kids, that so many of my ten, eleven, and twelve year old students had already given up and weren’t able to see the gifts within themselves. Many of them didn’t understand about choices and the idea that life is bigger than their own small worlds. They were so used to seeing life as something passively happening to those around them, not knowing that each person has the power to make life happen, and that it can change and be better.
It’s one thing for a teacher to bring out your gifts, but quite another if there is silence at home. Or screaming.
We’ve all seen people make miraculous changes in their lives, and it can be inspiring. People lose weight, leave a thankless job, turn a passion into a career, or decide there’s something better than what they’ve known.
It starts with realizing you’re more than who you think you are.
Knowing there are gifts that each person can give to the world is a very powerful idea. If we viewed each person we meet as having something wonderful to give, something they might not even be aware of, we might see that person very differently.
And if each person actively worked to realize their own gifts, and to bring those gifts to light, what a different world this could be.
My first thought when I got out of the car was, I failed miserably. Again.
I’m a glass half empty kind of person. It seems to be my natural inclination. I’m not sure why, and I read an article once that stated people are generally either more optimistic, by nature, or tend to be more pessimistic. I seem to be the latter. And I’m trying to change that.
This past summer was the hottest on record here in Texas. I’m a runner, and every single run for three straight months was miserable. I complained. I whined. I moaned. I was negative. And then I always felt guilty for not being more positive and upbeat around other people on our runs.
That was the kind of run I had today–again. It finally cooled off a little, but it was extremely humid and we ran 16 miles. It seemed like we were always running uphill. And it seemed like all I could do was complain about it.
I tried to be positive and give a celebratory little yeah! when we ran down a small hill. But then we ran right back up another hill and my mood grew sour. I tried to keep it in as best I could, but I think I failed. All summer I’ve been aware that I’m complaining so much, and that puts me in a bad mood.
I’m not always negative. I was actually a very positive teacher, and was pretty good at motivating kids to learn (at least I hope I was). I’m also usually very optimistic about life in general, and I’m happy most of the time. It’s the little things that seem to cause my downfall.
Like the weather. Or people who don’t know how to drive. And stress always brings out my inner grouch.
I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort not to be negative. I don’t want to be phony about it and pretend things are other than they are, or gloss things over just to put a positive spin on them. I merely want to try and see the positives first, and not dwell on the negatives so much. There are times I can be cynical, or suspicious, and I always reserve the right to suspend belief when people tell me things. Part of this is a protection device, and goes back to keeping my walls up so people don’t get too close.
I tried to read a book once about people who made a promise not to complain. They wore a little rubber bracelet, and anytime they complained about something they had to move the bracelet to the other arm. The goal was to not move the bracelet, which meant not complaining for an entire month, and then trying to extend the complaint-free time for longer and longer. I never sent off for the bracelet because I knew I would fail. It seems somewhat inauthentic, to hold in feelings just to remain positive all the time. What if the complaints are valid? What if they’re the truth!
Someone once told me I was the most honest person he knew. I didn’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not, but I’d rather be called honest than dishonest, and sometimes I think glossing over the truth just to be positive is dishonest. I do know I can be bluntly honest–which could come across as being negative sometimes–but I try not to hurt others with that honesty, though I’m sure there are times that I do.
I have to wonder if others struggle with being positive as much as I seem to. Our modern life with all its pressures makes it tough for us to remain cheery. For me, I think it goes back to my struggle to accept things as they are, and not as I want them to be (as I wrote about in an earlier post this summer). Maybe it’s merely just another judgment I’m placing on whatever it is that bothers me. Perhaps–no, probably–rather than complain and say anything at all, I just need to learn to keep my big mouth shut.
Even if I don’t truly accept the situation, or my negative feelings, or the disappointment, not saying anything at all doesn’t have to mean I’m lying to myself if I don’t voice my complaint. It just means I can acknowledge it to myself, give it no value, then move on from it. And if I look a little deeper, I think it all truly begins at my disappointment with whatever has happened, so maybe disappointment is the trigger. Disappointment, and maybe not being able to control what is happening.
I think the key is to work on trying to see the positive first, acknowledging the negative thought, then moving on. Let it go. Adios, amigo.
Will I ever be a full glass kind of person? Doubtful. Can I at least work on half a glass full? I think so. What would that person look like, what would she sound like? Ah, well, all I can do is keep plugging away, and not let things get to me so much. Everything changes, including my bad moods, the weather, and half empty glasses.
And that’s what makes life interesting.