On identity

One of the interesting things about moving around and spending 1-6 months in a place is that you’re constantly uprooting your life but then spending enough time somewhere else to again lay roots. This has a number of interesting dimensions to it that could be fruitfully explored, but for now I want to focus on just one: that so many different people form a completely different perspective of you based on who you were in your life when you met them.

When you live this lifestyle, almost everyone is meeting you for the very first time and getting to know you, just as you are evolving into some newer version of yourself. This is important, because I think perhaps my most fundamental belief is that we are constantly changing. This belief in yourself as someone evolving is validated in this lifestyle because it becomes exceedingly clear that you aren’t the same person that you once were. I bemoan this idea that others expect us to be the same person we always were. It is so important to change in life and become some fuller, truer version of ourselves. Yet, we struggle our whole lives to balance our aversion towards letting others define us with our needing them, in some way, to define us (or at least to reflect back upon us some sign that confirms to us that we are the person we like to think that we are).

Others usually don’t want us to change and so we maybe think that we shouldn’t or we can’t and we are, at times, reluctant to acknowledge those instances where we have. For much of my life, I’ve felt some sort of need for external validation. As I continue moving through life, however, I have continued (quite successfully) to challenge this understanding of myself.

One of the things that is interesting then about constantly moving, changing and being around different people, is that you couldn’t possibly define yourself based on the perception of others because way too many people have completely different perceptions of who you are as a person. Many, I like to think, would attest to knowing that my heart is true and loyal and compassionate and that I am, at my core, an honest, caring, principled, decent and respectful man. (I would no doubt reflect that same vision of them). But, I don’t think I would struggle to find a few people who didn’t quite feel that way about me – and perhaps could very well wish misfortune upon me.

Who is right? Which version am I? I do not know, but I know that I cannot leave the final answer to this question to some jury of my peers. No, I must define that in conversations with myself and with the universe. But, as the others around me are an essential part of that universe, I return to the fact that I must know myself as an individual while also knowing myself within the context of the group. 

When we are alone we are like the sound of a tree falling in a forest without anyone else there to hear it. We don’t exist. And there, my friend, is where we find the rub: the need to know yourself colliding head on with the fact that you cannot know yourself without also knowing the sense of belonging that comes through our relations with others. And because a huge part of a relationship is receiving approval from them in some way, we are left with the utter inescapability of the need to be sensitive, to some extent, towards how they perceive us.