I’ll be turning 29 next month which has started a very contemplative phase I like to call the ‘pre-birthday freak-out phase’. It’s around this time that I start questioning where I am, the person I am and the person I want to become. I know it’s all extremely deep and self-absorbed but I think these are important questions to ask ourselves every once in a while even when you’re not entering the last year of your twenties and flippin’ the feck out.
Self-identity is a can of worms that I am not qualified to open but I thought I would share something that I have come to understand during this haze of panic:
Most of us want to be the best person we can be
Right? We all want to be remembered as being kind/generous/successful people but in the quest for this achievement we can lose sight of what truly defines us. We allow ourselves to become focused on circumstances that we believe to be a crucial part of who are when in fact they are only the stepping stone to being that person. We are always changing as people through the experiences we have but we can’t benefit from these lessons if we are unable to see past our situation.
I have been guilty of this recently. By nearing 30 I have wondered if I am where I thought I would be by this age. As a teenager I had no concept of time and predicted I would be earning a heck of a lot more, be married, own my own home with maybe a wee bairn on the way. I haven’t achieved any of that but should I let that define whether I am successful or not? Absolutely not.
I honestly believe it is my actions and treatment of others that define who I am. I believe it is the love that consumes me for my family and friends that defines me. I believe it is every experience, heartbreak or euphoric, that defines me. I believe it is the people who I have met and the stories I have heard that defines me. I am made up of all these things and will continue to be made up of more as I grow older and love more.
Here are the things that I am choosing to not let define me and hopefully you won’t let define you either…
As a doe-eyed university student I dreamed of becoming a hugely successful wildlife conservationist and travelling the world as David Attenborough’s understudy (I dreamed big!). Of course I could still become a conservationist if my heart desired but my career has led me down a different path that I am OK with. I am working in the financial world now, an industry I would have turned my nose up as a young environmentalist but I have chosen this career because I know it will help me progress to where I want to go. You might not like your current job or you might be a little disappointed that you’re not where you thought you would be instead focus on where this experience will get you to. I don’t allow my job or how much I earn to define me because I have a whole life outside of work that I believe contributes to who I am too.
Your Marital Status
I am a part of a group of friends who are slowly getting married off one by one and I have been beyond happy watching them commit themselves to the people they love. However, I hate the feeling that people wonder when ‘I’m next’ because it’s as if the happiness of my own relationship is then questioned because we aren’t yet married. We shouldn’t use any relationship as a measure of success, married or otherwise, because it will only lead to an unhealthy dependency on using another person to define who we are. We are all individuals and should always treat ourselves as such when considering our own worth.
I know a few of you reading might scoff at me panicking about turning 30 but I think we are all victims of allowing our age to define us. Our age can stop us from making decisions that might change our lives because we either believe we are either too old or too young to accomplish them. We might feel we are too young to question our peers in the workplace and not worthy of the respect we deserve based on our merit. We might feel we are too old to leave a toxic relationship because it will mean we need to start all over again. Your age isn’t you. Those big bold choices in life are what define us and age should never be a barrier to that.
Honestly the amount of times I have stood in front of a mirror and felt disgusted is too many times to admit but it has happened. I have scrolled through Instagram wondering why I have this pouch that will refuse to leave or why my legs are like wee stumps instead of remembering that the pouch isn’t really all that big and my legs are actually quite toned. Our appearance might be the first thing that people see but the impressions we make go beyond what we see in the mirror. When someone greets you they are looking for the kindness in your eyes, the warmth in your smile or how easy you are to talk to. Your features do not define you.
This one may not be specific to some people but I had to include it because it’s relevant to the perception I can have of myself. Having Cystic Fibrosis means that I often feel like I have little control over my life and therefore people’s perceptions of me. I hate that I might be thought of as ‘sick’ because I don’t want my illness to define who I am or what others think of me. I am so much more than a girl who has a bad cough! And you too shouldn’t let your own health define the expectations you have of yourself. So what if you might not be a good runner? You might be better suited to yoga or a gentle swim. Ease up on the pressure and remember that just because you might not be able to run a mile in few minutes doesn’t make you capable of other great things.
Social media now means that instead of just reading about celebrities in magazines we now have full access to their daily lives. Product after product is being churned out to ‘influence’ us to buy while trends move so fast that sought after items are often outdated by the time we can afford to buy them. We have been a consumer society for a long time now but the pressure is getting a bit ridiculous and we shouldn’t think that buying nice things means we truly successful. I honestly believe our hard-earned money should be spent on experiences because those moments are what should define who we are and are what we will remember when we’re reminiscing in our rocking chairs (when we’re unfashionable no matter what we buy!).
How Many Friends You Have
When I was younger I tended to measure my worth by how busy my social calendar was. I loved having loads of friend and a weekend jam packed with plans which in the end left me feeling exhausted. Now that I’m approaching 30 that need to fill time isn’t quite as potent because I have decided that quality is more better than quantity when it comes to friendships. I have a small group of people around me who I adore and by putting my energy in to those relationships I am left feeling a lot more fulfilled (and I also have more time to myself which I love!). The same goes with social media too. For a while there I definitely felt under pressure to have as many followers as possible and would feel disappointed when I didn’t see the numbers increase the way I wanted. I have come to realise that you need your tribe online just as much as you do in the ‘real world’ and it doesn’t matter if you have 100 or 1 million followers, as long as you have good people engaging with you then that’s what really is rewarding.
What You Consider as Smart
My little sister Shannon is, without a doubt, the funniest person I know. She is so quick-witted that even the smartest people can’t keep up with her! Having such a quick mind means she’s always intuitive and has real common sense and yet despite all of this obvious intelligence, Shannon would never consider herself as ‘smart’. Growing up in western society taught us that intelligence is often measured by success in academia which means that we have a distorted view on what constitutes as smart. Being smart doesn’t mean you can answer all the questions in University Challenge (I have a mini Mexican wave if I get one answer!), have a degree or listen to classical music. You might have a brain for business (like my Dad who is dyslexic) or you might have a true talent with numbers. Don’t define yourself by how many books you’ve read but rather how you use the talents you know you do have.
Oh Jaysus, how often I have punished myself for the stupid things I have done or said. I have tortured myself thinking that people’s opinions of me have changed forever on the basis of a single act of stupidity especially as a reckless youth. I have started to discover though that people actually forget mistakes a lot quicker than you do and it’s how you recover from these mistakes that define you the most. Don’t worry that people will always attach your mistake to because they won’t.
Growing up in Northern Ireland, people often used religion to identify themselves and even today there can still be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ language used by many. I was brought up as Catholic and my boyfriend was brought up as Protestant and although neither of us would describe ourselves as religious, it was still a bit of an adjustment for a few family members. In a perfect world we would all be viewed as the same but of course racial tensions are stronger than ever, sectarianism in NI still exists and LGBT members of the community still lack the rights that all humans should have. Despite this we should not let our race/religion/sexuality define who we are. We are more than just a label and if we are united in encouraging that mindset then maybe one day we can live in a society that starts seeing the person behind the label.
Have you any thoughts on this? Is there anything in your life that you refuse to let define you??