This seemingly simple question has been contemplated by Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato to people the world over and throughout history.
I first encountered this conundrum a few years ago while attending a Saturday morning workshop during my counselling training. Initially, it appeared to be a straightforward question; however, I found this exercise quite a challenge. I set about this task along with the other students attending the workshop. Ten minutes later, I had in front of me a scribbled bullet point list of all the things that came to mind. The group then came together to discuss our findings to this life defining question. Interestingly, this exercise had elicited a very broad and varied range of responses; some of which, brought about moments of much hilarity amongst the group. However, beyond the fun and the laughter, there were some important learning points to take away from the session.
Writing a list is a good place to start; however, you may have to explore a little deeper below the surface to really discover your uniqueness.
• a husband
• a father of four children
• happy when I spend time in nature walking my dog
• open to learning new things
• a person who enjoys being with others and someone who enjoys my own company
• an over thinker!
My answers begin as a fundamental list of identities: I am a husband, I am a father, I am family orientated and so on... As I reflect on my answers, I notice that I have listed family in my first three bullet points. Although this was an unconscious action, I can see on closer inspection, that I have prioritised my answers in order of the things that are most important to me now. Interestingly, ‘I am creative’ appears at the bottom of my list. Creativity was an important part of my identity for much of my working life; and although it is still a part of my identity now, the emphasis on importance has shifted and it is not as significant to my identity as it was in the past.
I have repeated this exercise several times since that workshop and what I have realised is that my identity is part of who I am and that this is constantly changing and evolving. My values, beliefs and upbringing have formed and shaped my identity. This understanding that my identity is fluid and constantly changing, helps me to gain a clearer understanding of who I am now and where I would like to be. Self awareness nurtures self acceptance and is an important aspect of discovering who we are; which in turn can broaden our opportunities to grow and thrive.
To begin to answer the question, "Who am I?' may require a person to explore themselves at a much deeper level; with the aim of increasing their self awareness and ability to make their own choices. As social creatures, human beings place a lot of importance on what other people think about them. Therefore, it would seem natural that we would care about who we are and what we feel about ourselves.
Our identity is at the core of understanding who we are. The choices we make and the values we live by form our sense of identity. Despite this, much of our early identity is formed by others; such as our parents and caregivers. We can become programmed into making choices based on our fears, desire to please and societal influences. As such, we can become disconnected from our authentic self. The task of finding out who we are is not an easy undertaking. Indeed, understanding the answer to this question requires activating conscious choices, enabling us to grow and value both ourselves and others in what is a lifelong and ongoing process.
So with all this in mind, there's only one question that remains. Who are you?