What Defines You? A Time to Choose.
At our house, one of our favorite holiday films is Love Actually. We watch it every year. It starts and ends at the Arrivals lounge of Heathrow Terminal 5. The opening scene sparkles with smiles, tears of joy and welcoming embraces as the Narrator soothes our souls as he interprets the scene:
"Whenever I get gloomy... with the state of the world, l think about the Arrivals gate… at Heathrow airport. General opinion makes that we live in a world of hatred and greed... but I don't see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified... or newsworthy but it's always there. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, none of the phone calls from people on... board were messages of hate or revenge, they were all messages of love. lf you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling... you'll find that love actually is all around."
What happens in Arrivals is a stark contrast to what happens in Departures.
The Doors of Heathrow.
A month or so ago I spent six hours in Heathrow Departures lounge, on my way home to Colorado from my adopted home in France. I watched the floods of people not coming home but, like me, on their way somewhere else.
In Departures, people are on the move. Multitudes of people every day rush past each other without seeing. Dozens of different voices, languages, cultures, costumes and ideas crammed together like so many salmon swimming upstream.
And I was struck by the difference between the two. In Arrivals, loved ones meet, embrace, reunite. Hearts collide and eyes sparkle with the joy of being known and loved. In Departures, the sparkle is in the storefronts. One glistening doorway after another. Brands beckon, each seducing us to define ourselves by their definitions.
Perhaps we’re all looking for costumes to make us feel seen. But as the bard reminds us, "All that glitters is not gold." And it seems to me, especially at this time of year when the siren song is so strong, we need more than ever to choose carefully, consciously how we define ourselves.
Who am I?
The typical ways we define ourselves can be seen even in a crowded terminal: how you dress, the language you speak, where you’re traveling to or from and who you’re with.
You might use your name, age, gender, social roles or the color of your skin. You might define me by my nationality, the clothes I wear and whose company I keep. We might define each other by our religious beliefs, political positions or the jobs we do.
All these criteria – personal and environmental – can solidify our identities and make us feel we belong. But they can also divide us, separating us from anyone who appears different.
But there’s a deeper transpersonal level beneath the surface that only you can define. It is the quality of your character, your integrity and how true you are to yourself. Who do you know yourself to be? What is essential to who you are? And how do you live?
Not That… This
As we grow, live and interact with the world, our experiences show us not only who we are but also who we are not.
In Business, how we define ourselves is our branding. It differentiates us and gives us an advantage over our competition. One of the ways we do this is through a SWOT Analysis. We’re guided to identify our:
- Strengths: our internal characteristics that create a competitive advantage
- Weaknesses: our internal shortcomings that need to be improved
- Opportunities: external market conditions we can take advantage of
- Threats: External conditions we can’t control but need to address
On a more personal level, external adoptions like religious beliefs, political positions, even our regional cultures differentiate us. Each one includes us in one group and exclude us from others.
And these days what differentiates us also divides us… and all too often today polarizes us.
They Say… I Say
Growing up as a privileged white girl in Texas I learned the security of Us v Them. My parents were good, loving people doing their best to protect me. But they were also fearful of what was different. There was a right and a wrong way to be… according to them. So I spent decades looking outside myself to know who I was supposed to be. I learned to define myself not by what I knew but by what people around me told me.
Maybe this is why Oprah’s take on the question so inspired me.
For Oprah, (in her own words)…
“It is answering the call to Truth—capital T—in every moment. I actively work to make sure everything I do, say, promote or involve myself in comes from a place of resonance and appreciation. All my personal and business endeavors have to be in alignment with what's authentically me.” And ultimately, Oprah’s guide has been, “Does this feel right?”
Does It Feel Right?
If we live at the surface, relating only to each other through our external identities, what we’re taught or what’s been handed to us, we will find ourselves in a competitive world of stereotypes, airbrushed images and hierarchy. (Have you checked social media lately?) Form without substance is empty indeed.
So perhaps we need to look deeper.
In order to find a new paradigm for defining ourselves, we must learn to look within for what defines us. How do you define yourself beyond the things that separate you from me?
“What defines you? It's a big and important question indeed. The answer sets the course for everything that follows.” — Oprah Winfrey
Why It Matters
There is an inherent tension between our desire to belong and our desire to express our uniqueness. We want to be loved. But we also long to live our own lives, to realize our dreams, to fulfill our destinies. Our sense of aliveness rests in finding what is unique to us and sharing it. Purpose and meaning lie in our authentic contribution to our communities.
To do this we have to take the wheel of our lives.
The Wheel of Creativity
In the Wheel of Creativity, I demonstrate how life is a (r)evolutionary process. It is a creative cycle that recurs countless times in every area of your life, all through your life.
In Station 3 of the Wheel, you are asked to step outside your comfort zone, overcome the inertia that keeps you stuck in a revolving door of old patterns and choose to do what you love, what calls you to live your truth.
By bringing your vision into form again and again you become the person who can do it. It’s the process of re-integrating yourself—Mind, Body, Spirit and Heart—a fragment more with each cycle.
So, your answer to the question of what defines you is not fixed, but evolving. And the wheel is in your hands.
Through Mindfulness, Meditation, journaling and other personal practices of self-inquiry, you can explore what defines you today.
So, take a moment now. Find a comfortable seat. Breathe deeply. Close your eyes. And reflect on these questions.
- What is essential to who you are?
- What is the Truth for you about this?
- What is your authentic way of being here?
- What is in alignment with your authentic self?
- How does this knowing help define you today?
What Becomes You
What defines you is neither fixed nor permanent. The answer is not only a what —a particular set of characteristics assigned to you by fate or roles, preferences and beliefs acquired over time. It is also a how —how you engage with what life has dealt you. It is a series of choices through the process of living that cause you evolve and become who you define yourself to be.
Ultimately, what defines us has more to do with how completely and passionately we live our lives than what we the circumstances of the lives we're given.
“lf you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling... you'll find that love actually is all around."
Do you long for a more authentic ways to define yourself? A new vision you can realize with your one and only life?
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