by Safiyyah Boolay-Jappie
“Life is not about Finding Yourself, It is about Creating Yourself. “ — George Bernard Shaw
As soon as your mother knew that your arrival was on the horizon, she started to have thoughts, ideas and dreams about you and for you. The fashioning of you began. Without your involvement. Without your awareness. Without your consent. As your young life unfolded, chapters were being written for you and yet you were told that this book, this life, is yours.
This is the universal story of mankind. This is why being your own person can be the most challenging prospect for most of us. The true quest for all of us is to be the master of our own character, image and story, rather than playing the roles and the characters that others have consigned for us. Make no mistake, no matter your path, the world is insistent in casting you to roles and characters that hold little to no appeal for you. And be assured, the world will resist any attempt on your part to direct your life outside of the character and plot it has already produced.
It may feel easier and infinitely more convenient to simply accept the world’s direction; to play the roles and to be the characters you’ve been assigned. There would be less conflict. The question though is whether there would be more comfort?
“There are people who live their lives on default settings, never knowing that you can customise.“ — Robert Breault
Here is what I know. Once you accept the roles consigned to you, you are doomed and your destiny is cast, and you live under the yoke of other people’s expectations. What you do, how you do it and who you do it with becomes the subject of communal approval. The longer you perform to the ideas and ideals others have for you, the more complex your extrication and the more daunting, frightening and outright dangerous the discovery and expression of your truest self becomes.
In the meantime, you’re stuck, playing a role, a hapless actor in a grand masquerade complying with cues from both real and imagined directors. In the long-run, this compliance, convenient as it might be, breeds contempt and when that contempt is powerless with nowhere to go, it goes inward, and so begins a toxic relationship within ourselves that reflects in our relationship to the world. You turn the conflict you were desperate to avoid with others inward, and you create a pattern of self-alienation and abuse. You become alien to yourself and settle into a diet and routine of self-soothing escapes and compulsions. The addiction of distraction becomes your way of life. Some addictions are obvious. Others are deceptive and even rewarded. We proclaim our workaholism and our burnout with pride. We pretend a life in which we’ve won, but we live a life in which we’ve lost touch with ourselves and our dreams and yearnings. Sometimes we are so far down the rabbit hole that we can’t even recall those dreams and yearnings; and the more lost they feel to us, the more we numb ourselves and exist on a plain of oblivion.
So what is the alternative?
“Success is a tale of obstacles overcome; and for every obstacle overcome, an excuse not used.” — Robert Breault
I suspect that the alternative is simpler than we think. It is simply that we respond with curiosity to that innately human quest to discover and explore who we are and how we make a difference and how we belong. For most human beings, nothing is more fascinating than themselves. Who they are, what their potential is and what they can achieve. And as fascinating and as energising as all of this is, it is the accompanying discomfort it occasions that can be hugely off-putting to most of us, most of the time.
In the end, the creation of the self requires an appetite for judgment and rejection and for feeling misplaced, at least for a period of time. The creation of the self requires us to train first ourselves and then others about who we are, what are priorities and where our boundaries are, and how we will show up in the world.
Though the barriers of life seem formidable, we find when we challenge them that they have no will.
Identity drives behaviour and behaviour shapes identity and both are governed by the choices we make. And it is in owning the choices that we make that we decide who directs our lives and our identities. Will it be others or will it be ourselves? Will it be governed by our fear of loss, judgment and rejection, or will it be guided by our fascination with our potential and our hunger to find our furthest frontiers?
Few things in life bring us to greater discomfort than owning these choices. This is the discomfort we avoid and we settle for the discomfort of feeling misplaced within ourselves as we act out the roles that offer us some security and certainty within the tribes we travel will.
And we miss out on the expression of who we are, on seeing where our potential can take us, and on how we surface as the most aligned versions of ourselves. Every dream you have, every aspiration you have needs a very specific version of you to bring it to life. Reaching your potential means not only creating yourself, but in means recreating yourself repeatedly as you march past the frontiers and limitations each version of you presents with.
Creating yourself and recreating yourself is a skill, and the longer you take to cultivate this skill the longer it takes and the more improbable it becomes to live as the fullest expression of yourself. And the longer it takes, the more improbable it becomes to escape the discomfort.
You can accept reality or you can persist in your purpose until reality accepts you.