Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who am I?

I swear, if one more person tells me I need to "find myself" or asks, "Who are you, really?", I think I'm going to scream.

I can tell you what I believe in. I can tell you what I'm passionate about. I can tell you about what I feel called to do and what I'm gifted at. I can tell you what I love.

But there's supposed to be some nebulous "me" apart from any of that, and I'm supposed to gaze at my belly-button until I can find it. I don't even know how I would recognize it, since I have no idea what these people are talking about.

John thinks its based in the Romantic idea of the self, of there being some perfect path that is fulfilling. And as I think about it, the people who are bugging me with this are all baby boomers, folks who went through the 60s when it was all hip and cool to "find yourself", when Romantic literature was popular again. He even said, and this sounds right, that the reason it seems they have so many divorces and career changes is that anytime they are unhappy they think it's because they have to go "find themselves" and whatever relationship/job they are in obviously is not contributing to the all-important search, so they must abandon it. To put it really simplistically.

(note that we have a decent dose of hostility toward baby boomers in this house and are pretty ready for them to go senile so they'll stop running the world)

I find myself to be more of an existentialist. I believe my life is a work of art that I am creating. There is not some perfect path or person that I'm supposed to be finding - there are infinite possibilities. I am what I make of myself. And God and I work together to make a good me, but that's an amalgam of my doings and believings and hopes. It's not somehow separate from them. It's not find me first, then do something. It's do something, and the sum of what I do becomes the life I lead which is essentially who I am.

And that's the thing nobody - well, nobody over 40 - seems to understand. They tell me that is backwards, but honestly, I do not understand what they are asking me to find. I really don't even comprehend the question, "Who is Stasi, really?"

I mean, why are people so afraid when I explain myself by what I do? They act like that is so offensive, like I somehow must get past doing. But really, what we do reveals who we are, what we believe, what we privilege. That's the whole basis of character ethics.

I dunno, maybe one of you can explain to me what I'm supposed to be looking for. Apparently I'm just horribly out of touch with my real self and not nearly introspective enough (of course, none of these people read the blog...). But would I even recognize the "real self" if it showed up in the mirror one day? Ack, I just had a flash of the woman from Heroes with her evil mirror self!

I think this must be a generational thing. When I discussed it with John and other people younger than me, they all thought the question was weird. Apparently, to the horror of boomers everywhere, the younger generation is much more about getting up and doing something rather than spending a lot of time in self-reflection hoping to discover what to do. Not that boomers didn't do anything - they did a lot of great stuff. And not that we don't self-reflect - but I almost feel like we're better at focusing on the communal identity rather than just the almighty "me".

Well, these are my musings for this morning. Take 'em or leave 'em. I'm sure I'll hear from the boomers. S'okay. I'd be particularly keen to hear from other young people, though, as to whether you actually buy this "finding yourself" stuff or agree with me that it's weird.


Edette said...

Oh this might be my favorite post you have done yet! I agree that boomers can be quite annoying. I think they did all their great work of doing in the 60s and, for some reason still unknown to me, they all started to "find themselves" and stopped doing. (Maybe Bobby's death on the heals of MLK was just too much for them and they burned out, I know I sure might have.) I agree it is a major reason for their insane divorce rate, and hence our generations delay of marriage rate. What I really want to say though, is that you seem to have found yourself just fine! I think they don't like to associate what you do with who you are, because for them they were often not linked. While for us we find our passions by looking at what we are already doing. We make a living doing what we are passionate about, and/or what we are called to do. (Even when there is not much money in it.) It is the spirituality of every day life. I had a friend once that responded to his wife's complaint about more fishing that weekend, "We are Lareau's. We fish. It's who are. It's what we do." My mother for instance, a boomer for sure, but not so much on this item: she married a minister, she is an active minister's wife, she teaches classes, she has spent all her working life in non-profit education jobs of one kind or another. She would say, "I am a Christian, it is who I am, it is what I do." Now her single daughter can say, looking at a masters degree on the wall from Fuller, and working on AIDS in Africa, "I am a Christian, it is who I am, it is what I do." The consitency between who we are and what we do is what often seemed lacking from the boomer life. I think you have a lot of consistency so keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Maybe early boomers are different from late boomers?

I'm a late boomer, and I've always defined myself by my passions. The one person in the world you are stuck with is yourself. If you're not happy with yourself, you've got a problem. And no one outside you can fix it.

If someone asks me who I am, I give them the label my parents assigned me. If they want to know about the person behind the label, I can only talk about the things he loves: music, people, and learning. That's enough layers for me.

Juniper said...

Who am I? One thing is clear: I'm a procrastinating lazy person who should be working right now.

I'm not a boomer, but I think that there's some importance in NOT doing. The fact is, we're not defined solely in what we do, and we can get caught up completely in the whirlwind of doing without reflection or being. Remember, tis not by works that we are saved! (AND faith without works is empty.) Need both, says the raccoon who wants a donut, and trundles off to the donut store. The action arises from limited self-knowledge and immediate reaction to desire; and had the raccoon taken the time to consider more deeply about herself, her needs, her relationship to God and world, and her values, she might have chosen to eat granola instead. As it is, the quick action without reflection leads to a habit of thoughtless consumption and weight gain. Ah, well.

Meanwhile, the requirement of knowing oneself deeply and intensely in order to choose a path of action has religious roots much older than the overblown Romantic. At the root, God's will for us is our own deepest will; God's will is not exterior to who we are. But to discover that deepest self, where God's will resides in us, we do need to take time to know ourselves intimately, reproducing God's knowledge of us in our own minds and hearts. Without taking the time to do this, I think we can just be blown from one activity to another, without considering that we may not be choosing our actions and patterns, good or bad, out of spiritual commitment, but rather out of unexamined needs and old wounds. That's been my experience, in any case.

janinsanfran said...

This boomer is with you. And for that reason, I've been frequently beset by my age-mates who want me to help them "find themselves". I can remember more than one dinner at which it turned out the purpose of the invitation was a request for help along those lines. Mystifying. One can only tell those so afflicted to go do something and maybe they'll either find out or change their question.

Anonymous said...

I don’t really like the generational nomenclature. I guess because it tends to stereotype large groups of people and because I think it really only applies to the middle-class American cultural context. Having said that, however, I do recognize some validity in trying to define a shared generational experience. I happened to be born after the bulk of the Boomers but just before most of the X-ers. I have heard my group referred to as the Lost Generation. And, indeed, all of my life I have always felt somewhat separated from the mainstream of my culture.

Anyway, I also have never understood the preoccupation with “finding yourself.” It seems to me that the process of finding one’s self is like peeling an onion; the deeper you go, the less there is to find. If I must discover who I am, I’d much rather to it by focusing outward towards interaction with God and with other human beings. Besides, I already know who I am; a human created in the image of God. And I already know what I am to do in life; love God and love my neighbor as myself. Everything else is just working out the details.

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