“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.” -Soren Kierkegaard/Danish Philosopher
The challenge of life is in the hard work of discovering ourselves. The question, “Who am I?” usually crops up after someone encounters a major crisis such as a job loss, divorce, or death of a loved one. Others ask because they can feel a nagging unrest from within their souls. The ache and yearning to find their true self can no longer be suppressed.
If you’re Asian American, you may first have to drown in your success before you ask this question to yourself. Only after realizing you’re more than your career, family, or possessions does this search begin. But it’s made more difficult if you’re Asian since your schooling and family most likely did not encourage self-discovery, curiosity, or learning for learning’s sake. You were not praised to question, probe, or critique authority figures such as parents, teachers, pastors, or other leaders. Instead you were asked to simply memorize and obey. But in doing so, you may have sacrificed your free will to the influence and minds of others thus stifling your courage, imagination, and resourcefulness.
The first step towards answering, “Who am I” is learning how to listen to and find your own independent streams of thought. Some of you may want to move into a different career, others may want out of a relationship, or maybe there’s a general malaise with life. This is normal. In fact, if you’re seriously questioning moving in a new direction, there should be some level of grief and anxiety over the potential loss of your old self. But take heart because this type of loss can be accompanied by a re-birth marked by renewal, growth, and empowerment.
For myself, I endured the loss of both my marriage and my career as a t.v. journalist several years ago and was confronted with that very question of “Who am I?” From that devastating experience, I gained an unquenchable thirst to understand healthy relationships. The search brought me closer to my Asian heritage and a newfound understanding and appreciation of both the strengths and the weaknesses of Asian relational dynamics. It also forced me to risk more relationally by building a new support system of friends who could offer me their encouragement, support, and care through this crisis. I joined a men’s support group, went to relationship workshops, and found my own counselor.
For yourself, you will have to look at your own life journey and evaluate what you want changed for the future. You will need to courageously discern “life-draining” people and activities and replace them with “life-giving” alternatives. It may mean cutting off mediocre people who offer nothing more than security for you. It may mean having the strength to tell your boss you deserve a raise. It may mean being more vulnerable in your current relationship with a partner by exposing more of your thoughts despite the possibility of rejection.
We all have different needs and desires so what’s important in answering, “Who am I” is a deep understanding of what really moves you and the fearless conviction to move boldly in that direction.