On the day I was born, I was defined. A female to the doctors, a daughter to my mother, and a sister to my siblings. I was given a name, baptized into a religion, characterized by a language though I still had yet to utter a word. I grew up striving to understand the norms that shaped me. Some two decades down the road, I have settled into the expected definitions of who I am. I like the name they gave me, so I have kept it. I like most of the religion they taught me, so I practice it. I like the community I was born into, so I let myself be known by it (if that is what you would want to know me as). I like the responsibilities my family value me for, so I am a daughter and a sister. And yet, these are not the only definitions I seek in another person or in myself.
Are we really just simple arithmetic – sum, product and difference of all the things imposed on us since birth? Or are we puzzles and mazes shaped by the ambitions we dream, the legacy we long to leave, and the past we have left behind; the past itself having once been a future? If we strip ourselves of all our ‘identities’, will we still qualify as humans?
The most fundamental part of life is to evolve. Evolution is futuristic, the fine tuning of nature with time.
When I was younger, it was most important to me to say precisely who I was according to what people agreed with. That was a very hard life because what I was and what people agreed with were two very different things. Growth was crippled because I defined myself with the inadequacy of the things I had, and not by the potential of what I could be. Slowly as the years progressed, living by trying to change who I already was became a burden I wanted to let go of. The unchangeable, resolute events from the past that make me what I am cannot be erased. It remains an absolute, something I cannot contradict. And so I cannot change who I am because of the history that brought me here. I can celebrate it, learn about it, rejoice in it, or hate it. Essentially, what I am is immutable and unwavering in context of the past.
If what I am is fixed, then there is liberty only in becoming. If I choose to define myself solely by the standards I’m living at the present, I give too much credit to the past events that led me here, and not enough to the belief in what I can become. Giving too much emphasis to who I am can hinder the progress I aim to make. That is not to say the knowledge of who I am and the acceptance of my history is useless and unimportant. But when the definition of who I am is an end in itself, it ceases life. Because life is dynamic and changes with time. Life becomes purposeful when we are taking small steps, striding towards better versions of ourselves.
Michael Foucault’s words, ‘I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning’ will find company in Oscar Wilde’s famous lines in The Picture of Dorian Gray ‘…what are you? To define is to limit.’ There is no limitation to what we can become when we keep refining what we are.