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Who are you?

September 26, 2009
“Tell me all about yourself. Who ARE you?”
It’s a question I’ve always dreaded, from workplace interviews to childhood activity holidays when they’d cheerily insist we ‘broke the ice’. Any answer you give defines yourself, not just to the people listening but to yourself as well. Whatever you pick as an interesting fact, a thing people can use to get a bead on you, that is something you define yourself as, whether you know it or not.
Maybe once I’d have said I was a fencer – which I was at the time. And it was something I used to define myself. But I wasn’t dedicated enough to the sport that I could really, honestly say that it was a large part of my identity. If I was that dedicated, I wouldn’t have given it up when I failed to find a decent fencing club when I went to university.
Sometimes I’ll answer that I’m a musician, but if I do it’s followed by an instant wave of guilt for not practising enough. I could be a much better musician than I am, were I committed enough.
Many people would answer with their job, and fair enough if you have landed the job you dreamed of as a child. I certainly wouldn’t go to my job as a first choice though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m ashamed of it, or even that I don’t enjoy it. I’m quite fond of my job – of the jobs I’ve had, it’s certainly the best. But at the same time, it wasn’t a job  my mind went to immediately even as an adult, just something that came up in a desperate session of trawling the internet for possibilities while my bank balance slowly but inevitably became a bank imbalance.
If you define yourself by any one ability, you set yourself up for a fall when you come across someone better at that ability than you. If you define yourself by your intelligence, for instance, any witty stings made by someone in your social circle will hurt all the more, because you feel you ought to be equal to it. If you define yourself by your artistic ability, what does it do to your self esteem if no-one will hire you for it, while those around you make themselves a living?
People will always be competitive with this kind of thing, even hobbies like travelling or reading are in a strange way competitive. Not literally so, like a sport would be, but in a quieter, smugger sort of way. If someone defined themselves by their voracious appetite for books, what will happen to their self-esteem if they come across someone who has read every classic, and waxes lyrical about obscure Romanian poetry?
This, I think, is why people pursue the most obscure world records. To have something at which they are the undisputed best in the world, something by which they can safely define themselves. To be the guy who stuck 50,000 pegs to his left hand.
Some people will even define themselves by someone else, usually a significant other. That’s setting yourself up for an even bigger fall, as if something happens to that relationship or that person, a huge part of your personal identity disappears, leaving you scrabbling for something else to hang your metaphorical hat on, and trying to rebuild your self esteem. And besides, even if the relationship proves as solid as a rock, and the two of you are both blessed somehow with true immortality… I think I’d prefer to be defined on my own terms.
A few people will actually define themselves by a negative trait. Being bad with money, being tardy, being a party animal. This is downright dangerous, as they feel the need to pay up to this image. I’ve seen people who’s ‘thing’ was to get drunk a lot at parties. At one point, they just enjoyed a good time, but once it became expected of them they veered towards outright alcoholism.
You’re probably thinking I’m building somewhere with this, but I’m really not. It’s a conundrum that bothers me all the time. There are a few things by which I do define myself, but to save face when bested, guilt for not being as thorough with them as I could be, and derision for thinking myself better than I am at something, I tend to keep them to myself. I’m sure my friends have definitions of me, and occasional veiled references can lead to either a sobering moment or a flattered glow. But by and large, I’m happy for their opinions to stay theirs, and I try not to subscribe to them myself unless there’s good reason.
So… tell me about yourself. Who are you?

“Tell me all about yourself. Who ARE you?”

It’s a question I’ve always dreaded, from workplace interviews to childhood activity holidays when they’d cheerily insist we ‘broke the ice’. Any answer you give defines yourself, not just to the people listening but to yourself as well. Whatever you pick as an interesting fact, a thing people can use to get a bead on you, that is something you define yourself as, whether you know it or not.

Maybe once I’d have said I was a fencer – which I was at the time. And it was something I used to define myself. But I wasn’t dedicated enough to the sport that I could really, honestly say that it was a large part of my identity. If I was that dedicated, I wouldn’t have given it up when I failed to find a decent fencing club when I went to university.

Sometimes I’ll answer that I’m a musician, but if I do it’s followed by an instant wave of guilt for not practising enough. I could be a much better musician than I am, were I committed enough.

Many people would answer with their job, and fair enough if you have landed the job you dreamed of as a child. I certainly wouldn’t go to my job as a first choice though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m ashamed of it, or even that I don’t enjoy it. I’m quite fond of my job – of the jobs I’ve had, it’s certainly the best. But at the same time, it wasn’t a job  my mind went to immediately even as an adult, just something that came up in a desperate session of trawling the internet for possibilities while my bank balance slowly but inevitably became a bank imbalance.

If you define yourself by any one ability, you set yourself up for a fall when you come across someone better at that ability than you. If you define yourself by your intelligence, for instance, any witty stings made by someone in your social circle will hurt all the more, because you feel you ought to be equal to it. If you define yourself by your artistic ability, what does it do to your self esteem if no-one will hire you for it, while those around you make themselves a living?

People will always be competitive with this kind of thing, even hobbies like travelling or reading are in a strange way competitive. Not literally so, like a sport would be, but in a quieter, smugger sort of way. If someone defined themselves by their voracious appetite for books, what will happen to their self-esteem if they come across someone who has read every classic, and waxes lyrical about obscure Romanian poetry?

This, I think, is why people pursue the most obscure world records. To have something at which they are the undisputed best in the world, something by which they can safely define themselves. To be the guy who stuck 50,000 pegs to his left hand.

Some people will even define themselves by someone else, usually a significant other. That’s setting yourself up for an even bigger fall, as if something happens to that relationship or that person, a huge part of your personal identity disappears, leaving you scrabbling for something else to hang your metaphorical hat on, and trying to rebuild your self esteem. And besides, even if the relationship proves as solid as a rock, and the two of you are both blessed somehow with true immortality… I think I’d prefer to be defined on my own terms.

A few people will actually define themselves by a negative trait. Being bad with money, being tardy, being a party animal. This is downright dangerous, as they feel the need to play up to this image. I’ve seen people who’s ‘thing’ was to get drunk a lot at parties. At one point, they just enjoyed a good time, but once it became expected of them they veered towards outright alcoholism.

You’re probably thinking I’m building somewhere with this, but I’m really not. It’s a conundrum that bothers me all the time. There are a few things by which I do define myself, but to save face when bested, guilt for not being as thorough with them as I could be, and derision for thinking myself better than I am at something, I tend to keep them to myself. I’m sure my friends have definitions of me, and occasional veiled references can lead to either a sobering moment or a flattered glow. But by and large, I’m happy for their opinions to stay theirs, and I try not to subscribe to them myself unless there’s good reason.

So… tell me about yourself. Who are you?

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