My ‘Who’ of the Question: Who Am I?

whoI wanted to write my post this morning around a few quotes that I find profound, and most importantly, relevant to me because I’ve been pondering the question that many of us contemplate from time to time – Who am I?  Don’t worry, I’m not going to answer that question in full or drone on and on in a rambling fashion.  This is merely food for thought.  So, without delay, here is the first quote:

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”  ~ Aristotle

Whoa!  Those eight words pack a serious punch to the chin.  Reading it, I feel the weight of it.  My initial reaction is, I know myself, at least I think I do.  Although, in my experience, that knowledge has shifted over time, in varying degrees of specificity.  That statement alone, for me, encompasses knowing who I was in the past, who I am now, and who I want to be in the future.  None of which have been easy to figure out, but nonetheless, I think I have a pretty good handle on it.

But then I wonder, does knowing myself help me in my quest to answer the question of Who am I?  How is my “who” defined and shaped?  Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist who founded the school of analytical psychology, said:

I am not what has happened to me.  I am what I choose to become.”

Is that a true statement?  This declaration is full of impact, but can it possibly be a universal truth?  From my perspective, what’s happened to me in the past directly influenced who I am today.  My past has influenced the shape of my present.  But if I take that a step further, could the past also impact what I want my future to become?  It’s possible.  I think the past and present provides a foundation for the goals I pursue in the future.

Ultimately, I think the question of “Who am I,” encompasses all three: the past, the present, and the future.  These three things are the trifecta of a person’s own identity.  Doug Cooper, an award winning American writer, said:

Identity cannot be found or fabricated but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.”

This statement pisses me off just a smidgen.  If identity can’t be found, then what’s the point of searching for the answer of who I am?  It’s not like I’m just going to stumble upon it haphazardly.  Maybe what he’s trying to say is the only way to find your identity is to forgive yourself and others for the past, and relinquish the need to control the future.  That’s a tall order, especially for a control freak like me.  Honestly, I’m not sure if I can do that.  Can anyone?  Is that even possible – to give up complete control of our lives like that?  For a goal-driven individual, such as myself, that is more frightening than meeting Pennywise in a sewer.

Despite my fear of relinquishing control, I’m still compelled to answer the question and really understand my personal identity.  Dorothy West, a novelist and short story writer during the Harlem Renaissance wrote:

Identity is not inherent.  It is shaped by circumstance and sensitivity and resistance to self-pity.”

I can totally get behind that statement.  It reflects my version of how we determine who we are.  The past shapes us, molds us into who we are in the present, and sketches the outline of who we will become in the future.  Most importantly, I think the question “Who am I?” represents the journey of the self-discovery.  It’s scary.  It’s fraught with peril.  And it’s one hell of an adventure.

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