What Happened When I Stopped Defining Myself

For years, I’ve tried to put myself into a box; not because I wanted to limit myself, but because I wanted to define myself. I wanted to have a 30-second elevator pitch, and if someone were to ask me one day who are you, Aleks? I would tell them exactly who.

I’ve tossed aside identities like they were mismatched outfits in my closet. And I wore each one for a time, walked it proudly in public and in front of my peers, but it would never be the one look I would stick with as my real, true own. Each me that I tried on as my one and only definition would eventually fizzle out and evaporate, like a storm cloud. And for years, I felt myself inching further away from this mission that I had bestowed upon myself – to define myself.

I’ve been the tomboy, who played with sticks made to resemble guns with boys who let me be a part of their circle. I’ve been the daydreamer, who slept days away in fantasies of growing up to be famous and beautiful and adored. I’ve been the family black sheep and the peacemaker in said family, as well as English-speaking translator and “new life in America” coordinator. As I got older, I became the awkwardly promiscuous 20-something-year-old who used to hit on guys so that they’d buy me drinks. And in the middle of that me, I was also the shy, becoming empath who wanted nothing to do with using people for alcohol; or anything, for that matter. I’ve been the student who changed her mind, and the student who then had to justify how writing was ever going to pay me adequately to live. I’ve been the friend who liked you and you never knew, and I’ve been the one who was liked and who then fucked that up. And I’ve been the girlfriend who gave up all notion of a personal identity for the off-chance that I’ll have the relationship I always wanted – and that one self-sacrifice fucked me up. I’ve been the yoga student and the yoga teacher, and I’ve been the hypocrite who never practiced and the teacher who had full classes. I’ve been the writer who amassed readers and respect, and I’ve been the writer who could never quite believe in herself to always keep going. And I’ve been a believer on the precipice of doing anything I wanted, and and atheist of my own dreams and those of God.

I’ve been so many things, and so many angles of myself over the years. And through each transition, achievement, or fall, I’ve always pulled myself back to the drawing board, to start yet again in defining myself. I thought I ought to be straightforward – buy a house, land a cushy job, invest in my 401k, and date with the intention that I will get married before I’m 34. And then I’d go off somewhere on a trip, and experience this life-changing epiphany; and I’d come home and swear off going down the path of what my parents think is right, and I’d be somewhere else. I’d be someone else. And my thinking would swerve like a drunken jest, and I would make instantaneous plans of moving far away, off the grid, to teach and write and become this new me that I’ve always wanted to be.

But reality would hit, or that paycheck would be a reminder of bills that are always higher, and I’d land back at being straightforward. And my parents’ suggestions of who I ought to be would come back around and sound pretty safe. And I’d catch myself in the middle of this web, between being safe and stable and risky. And I never realized that I had started to use those words to define myself. In all of the vocabulary in the world, I’d chosen three words with which to lay out my entire existence.

Besides, I had no idea who I wanted to be; it was an enigma. I didn’t know it, but I chased after it relentlessly, this notion of having a single definition and image of myself that I could use to give people an idea of who I was. I wanted to give myself an idea of who I was, too. But I always came up empty handed, with just a stack of failed attempts by my side. It was like I tried on mask after mask, and none of them fit.

One day, I remembered a conversation I had with a friend at a bar. She had asked me, spontaneously, what I wanted to do in life. It’s the adult equivalent of asking what you want to be when you grow up (although I’m starting to think that question is more relevant for adults than it is for kids these days). And I remember that I didn’t put forth any of my previous candidates – I didn’t say yoga teacher or writer or traveler or homeowner. I simply said I want to be happy. And she didn’t get it, because I saw that look on her face that I often see when people hear that answer. It was one of confusion, like she thought I didn’t understand the question. And that response, to this day, reminds me of John Lennon, in his own situation that I can now empathize with; except that John answered with I don’t think you understand life.

And I don’t think that she understood what I meant, but it also took me by surprise. Maybe because my answer was so simple, and it didn’t come from some logical compilation that my brain pieced together. It came from the heart; plain and simple. I truly just wanted to be happy. And the simplicity of that answer surprised me because it was just that – simple and free. At no point in my search for who I am did I think about simplicity. Instead, I walked through each phase of myself with an assumption that it was going to require debilitating work for me to figure out who I was. I put road block after road block in front of myself, not to consciously make my life harder, but because I foolishly thought I needed to pass some self-contained test to deserve myself. Wild, right? Until that day in the bar, I would have racked my brain to answer my friend’s question, and some untought-out summary of Aleks would eventually emerge from my mouth, and I would be stuck with it. Until I hated it, shortly after, and we would be back to square one, identity-less.

But this idea of simply being happy carries with it heaps of new words with which I can now live. When I admitted to myself that all I’ve ever really wanted from myself is to be happy, I found that I didn’t need a box anymore. I didn’t need to define myself anymore, because just being was so much more natural. I’m no longer an elevator pitch, and it feels bigger than life to finally walk away from that self-imposed pressure. And because I no longer care to pick through piles of masks for the day, I can turn my focus on standing up without a mask. That alone is a definition that surpasses all words, all limitation.

I think that’s happiness.

How simple.

How me.

3 thoughts on “What Happened When I Stopped Defining Myself

  1. Pingback: You Are Your Parents’ Fears

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