Who are you?
You might be inclined to answer this with a list of your hobbies or day job: a weightlifter, a lawyer, a vegan, a runner, a teacher.
But what if instead, you answered this with qualities about yourself that are intrinsic? With things that cannot be taken away from you? After all, you may decide one day that you want to leave veganism. Or you get laid off from your job. Or you suffer an injury and cannot train in your sport. What happens then? What happens when the thing we sink our identity into is stripped from us?
Who are you then?
As marketing guru Seth Godin once spoke about in a TED talk, the internet has done incredible things when it comes to allowing people to find their people. Their community. Their tribe.
He says, “tribes are [now] everywhere. The internet was supposed to homogenize everyone by connecting us all, but instead what it’s allowed is silos of interest… People once on the fringes can find each other, connect and go somewhere.”
As someone who has a business in the digital space, and is working every day to build and foster an online community, I know this is true, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunities the internet has afforded me.
I think about the friendships I’ve made, the relationships I’ve built, and the way my own life has been shaped and impacted by things or people on the internet. It’s pretty remarkable stuff.
I thank my lucky stars every day that I am a part of such a supportive and welcoming community. And I’m forever grateful to the magic of the internet for allowing these niches, these little tribes, to exist, because they enhance our feeling of acceptance, belonging and purpose— which are all fundamental to not only our quality of life, but our health.
Last week I wrote about why I dropped the label of “paleo” when explaining to people how I currently personally eat. I was really surprised to see just how many of you resonated with this, and I loved chatting with so many of you about your own journey to find a label-less diet.
I can’t help but notice an interesting dichotomy. One where we are itching to embed ourselves in a community of likeminded people, to connect and deepen an area of our identity, and one where we are liberated by tossing out anything that could pin us onto one specific idea or premise.
So where are we supposed to land? How do we navigate the need to find our tribe but not let it define us? And in an age where the internet -- the good, the bad and the ugly-- reigns as king, how do we figure out who we are, without growing into a polarized, oversimplified, dogmatic and unbendable symbol of the things we identify with?
If we take an honest look, is there maybe an instance where our allegiance to a community, identity or ideology overrides who we actually are in our day to day lives? And whether we realize it or not, are we sinking our identity into and defining who we are by these constructs? Or are we really honoring our true selves?
In other words, are we practicing what we're preaching?
While I’m still figuring this out in my own life, and am quick to tell you that I certainly do not have all the answers, I think there’s a few ways we can begin to tackle this.
One is the pursuit of self knowledge and thoughtful introspection. We can do this a few ways, but my favorite way is reading (my favorite books are here). The more we can learn about ourselves and the way we respond to people, circumstances, expectations, rules, and set backs, the better off we are, in general.
The benefits of this include a better sense of how to improve our lives; how to create habits that stick, how to get ourselves to do hard things or face difficult situations, how to better connect with those around us. It also brings a sense of confidence and even power. After all, knowledge is power. The more we know, the more we can do with it.
We can take note of how we handle conflict, we can listen closely to the space between what someone is saying, and how we hear it. We can think about the ways in which we express ourselves, the ways in which our fears and insecurities show up, and the ways in which we empower and lift those around us.
We can collect the qualities about ourselves that live beyond a title, or Facebook group, or hobby.
The things like how we (really) support and connect with our friends and family, and those closest to us. How we (really) talk to and engage with those who don’t agree with us. Objectively tuning in to the lenses through which we view the world at large, and the small decisions we make every day.
The ways we use our voice, and the things we stand for. And the things we don't.
And in a time when social media and the internet as a whole is just a finger pointing screaming match, I think these pursuits hold even higher value.
The comfort and closeness of the ancient pursuit of connectedness is a worthwhile cause, and finding our tribe can fulfill us as humans in real, valuable ways, and can give us a sense of purpose.
But knowing who you are, outside of your job and your hobbies and your sport and your diet and your neighborhood and your Liked pages and anything that could be taken away from you at any given moment in time, is where the really important work happens.
Learning about these intrinsic qualities, even as they ebb and flow and grow and dissolve, is paramount. These are the pockets where we should be planting our precious self worth and our identity. These are the gardens where we should be watering and weeding and tending to. These are the qualities about ourselves that even though may evolve over time, cannot be stripped from us overnight. This is who we are.
If you aren’t thrilled with what you find under there, or it's difficult to sit with, or you're afraid what you're going to uncover? That's ok, and is part of the process; and I would argue where your energy to strengthen and improve yourself should go-- first.
And if your answers are just a pile of contradictions or you still aren’t quite sure, thats ok, too. In fact, that’s my whole point. Because we are nuanced, and multi layered and difficult to understand sometimes— difficult to define, to pin, to label, to throw into one camp or put into one box.
This is where we figure out how to become bigger, better, stronger, fuller, and ultimately happier humans. This is also where the rubber meets the road with our purpose.
Our ability to enact change on a bigger level, to make a mark and impact lives, to leave the world better than we found it, to see our life's purpose through -- it all begins with us.
Yes, our tribes and our communities are certainly a facet of who we are, and it’s a beautiful thing to see and experience these connections be made. And yes, our external habits and hobbies and preferences are an important part of us, too. They make us interesting and diversified and smarter.
But when we shut out all the noise and lines and forums and labels and the social media, and you are alone with yourself in the dark...
Who are you?