Occasionally, I’ll hear or read a line that seems like it’s speaking directly to me. I was reading the poem, Life is Calling, by Kelly Moore, when the second to last line made my shoulders drop in relief. Start as who you think you are.
What does it mean to start as who I think I am?
It doesn’t mean starting as who I’m supposed to be. I’ve tried to live my life as someone else and could never quite pull it off. Not to mention, believing that who really I am isn’t good enough feels awful.
It also doesn’t mean I have to know who I am. The thing is, who I am is complex and changing and, at times, contradictory. Trying to pin down exactly who I am may actually do more to limit me than to help me grow. Starting as who I think I am means I don’t have to figure out who I am before I start really living.
What a relief to not have to have myself all figured out and not have to somehow be someone I’m not! Then I remembered that the first word in this line of poetry is a verb—start. It isn’t telling me to just be who I think I am. In removing the pressure of defining myself, it also removes an obstacle to beginning and becoming.
All I have to do is start as who I think I am. Great! So…um…who do I think I am?
For me, this question isn’t as simple as it sounds. It unleashes a torrent of responses. There are so many voices trying to tell me who I am that I have a hard time hearing my own thoughts.
I turn to my journal when I need to bring some order to the chaos in my head. The list of 100 seemed like a helpful journaling technique for this situation.
I numbered my page from 1 to 100 and then wrote down the first 100 responses that came to mind when I asked myself who I think I am. I followed Kathleen Adams tips from Journal to the Self, writing as fast as I could without without worrying about repeating or complete sentences or whether my entries even made sense.
At first glance, my list doesn’t seem to describe one person. There’s quite a mixture of words. Some words show up more than once—hiding, fearful, compassionate. Some are behavioral tendencies that I’ve taken on as labels—perfectionist, people-pleaser. Some words describe who I want to be but have a hard time believing I am—curious, creative, generous. Sometimes contradictory thoughts seem to follow each other—logical, emotional…hopeful, discouraged.
In my list I found remnants of a self I thought I’d outgrown and qualities I want to grow into. I saw areas where I’m not treating myself with kindness or compassion and areas where I believe in myself more than I ever have before. I heard echoes of other people’s voices. I heard my own voice too.
My list doesn’t paint a picture of exactly who I am or who I want to be, but it gives me a clearer picture of who I think I am today. Some of my entries are things I aspire to with hope and joy. Others show me what challenges I’m likely to face.
Most of all it shows me where to start—where I need to dig deeper, where I need to take a step even though I don’t feel ready, where I need to look for evidence to the contrary, where I need to be gentle with myself.
The thing about starting as who we think we are is that we don’t do it only once. Instead it’s a way of living our lives. Who I think I am will change, but it’s the only place I can begin.
Your turn: Do you tend to act out of who you think you should be or who you think you are? Who do you think you are? I’d invite you to try making a list of 100, writing down your thoughts about who you are as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about repeating or whether what you’re writing is really who you are. The point is to see what shows up in your thoughts.
I’d love to know…does your list contain any surprises? Did you notice any patterns? What do you think it means to start as who you think you are? What are you doing to start this week?