What is the difference between a person finding themselves and a person defining themselves? Some coworkers and I were discussing this today without coming to much of a conclusion. When I was trying to “find myself”, I figured if I could define myself that would give me a clear enough direction. I noticed, however, that when you define yourself it has a way of limiting you. How do we weigh the importance of all of the things that make us who we are? And what about all of those things we could and might become? When we define ourselves, we take things on as our identity, which can have its ups and downs. Over the years, I’ve taken many things on to be part of my identity. I believed I was shy, unattractive, fashionably unaware, selfish, a picky eater, terrible at English, and so on. Many of these came from a few negative instances that left their impression on me for longer than I’d care to admit. A psychology professor once told the class that people often believe it takes one positive experience or comment to counteract one negative. However, studies found that it takes five positives to offset that one negative. I’d argue that for some of us, the ratio would have to be closer to 100:1 before we’d even consider moving beyond the negative.
In my experience, it didn’t matter how many people commented positively on my physical appearance or how often my friend told me I always looked put together, I was stuck on a minor crush of mine rating my appearance as a four in fifth grade and the look one of the more popular girls gave me when I greeted her wearing my brother’s hand-me-downs. Despite teachers telling me papers I wrote were near perfect, among the best in the class, which included the valedictorian, or how they looked forward to reading them, I was back in elementary school crying while trying to complete homework on adjectives, nouns, and verbs. Although in the grand scheme of things the experiences were minor, they had a substantial impact on how I saw myself. What I perceived to be negative attributes, I took on as my identity, quickly leading to insecurity.
Insecurity, I concluded today, is the belief that others predominantly notice our assumed imperfections, weaknesses, or shortcomings. Efforts to hide them can be exhausting. To this day, a written assignment that might take someone else half an hour to complete could take me two or three hours because I’m using every strategy I know of to cover up any signs of struggle. The difference now is, I’m beginning to disregard my old ways of thinking and my previous definitions. While I do still see myself as having shy, picky, and selfish tendencies, I will not discount the times I’ve gone out of my comfort zone, tried a new food, or did something kind for someone. They’re inclinations I have, not absolutes. By defining ourselves, or marking out the boundaries or limits (the definition of define), we become pigeonholed. In contrast, if we focus on finding ourselves, without defining, we become open to new discoveries. Think of it like science. We humans have uncovered so much, yet textbooks continue to be printed every few years to account for the newest findings. Imagine if we stopped accepting chemistry revelations after the detection of the atom. Of course, chemistry courses would be much easier, which isn’t the point, but we’d be closing the door on valuable information.