Defining Ourselves in an Era of Comparison

I was listening to a podcast with Sheryl Sandberg about resiliency, and it made me think a lot about how we define ourselves. We define ourselves by the work that we do, the friends that we have, the awards we’ve received, the amount of followers we have, and the list goes on. In the last year or so, I’ve thought so much about who I am and the ways that I define myself, and I’ve realized so much about how I define myself through the lens of comparison: comparison to where I’d like to be in my experience, who I wish I was more like, what I wish I was less of, etc.

I often define myself in these ways:

I am anxious. I work through a daily existence of obsessive compulsive anxiety. I think in circles, I operate with negative self-talk, and I worry constantly. Do they like me? Am I thin enough? Did I do that right? Will I be remembered for anything more than my worst days?

I am the daughter of addiction. I spent the majority of my adolescent years not understanding why my family operated differently than the ones I saw on TV, at the store, or on my block. I felt like medication and various vices were a normality, while also knowing that deep down, they weren’t for everyone’s home. I felt abandoned and unlovable, and oftentimes, I felt alone.

I am terrible at keeping in contact with people. I don’t like phone calls, I forget to respond to texts, and I often get so busy, time passes by and I realize that I never got around to reaching out to someone, no matter how much I love them.

I am sensitive. And not in the way that you see on dramatic high-school TV shows, but in a very visceral, sensory, way. I feel doors slam, car honks, loud sighs of frustration, questioning looks, and unspoken thoughts, in my whole body for hours at a time. I feel the sadness around me, the tension between other people, the lack of understand, and so much more, on a level that can easily set my body in shock for moments at a time.

These are just a few of the examples I can think of that come to mind more often than not, especially when I meet new people or change environments. They keep me up at night and make me question myself.

So when looking at these definitions of who I am, I take a step back and I listen. I listen to the podcasts full of stories, the conversations over coffee, the movie quotes that resonate, and I think to myself: we are so much more than our biggest struggles. We are made up of the best moments in our favorite films, the letters from old friends, the sweetness of a child’s giggle, and the resilience it takes to walk through pain.

So when I turn this all around, I can strive to define myself in these ways:

I am vulnerable. I let myself be seen, no matter the mess. I am open to talking about the darkest parts of who I am, while also joyous to share the highlights of my favorite stories. I am not afraid of sharing, and I let myself be seen so that maybe other people won’t feel so alone. I seek to relate to others, no matter how long I’ve known them.

I am loving. I have a capacity to love even the darkest parts of someone else. I will give you everything I have to offer if it will make you feel better. I remember moments, stories, and even the most insignificant details.

I am intuitive. I can tell almost immediately when someone is upset or anxious, and even if I don’t know how to help, I can try to understand. I anticipate the needs of other people and try to help before they even ask. I can usually spot the quietest, shyest, person in the room, and find a way to relate to them.

I am the daughter of a recovered alcoholic. I am proud of every step of my mom’s journey, and I wear her success and our reconcilement like a badge of honor. I will speak her praises and share her story with anyone that wants to know, because her recovery has allowed us to grow in innumerable ways. This definition is one I wear with pride.

I am a work in progress, always learning and always striving. I don’t try to hide my inexperience or pretend that I know what I’m doing. I am always trying to soak up lessons and ways of living that will make me a stronger, kinder, more resilient person. I seek to grow in whatever fashion I can.

So maybe I am still trying to understand how I can be all of these things, and not know how to own who I am. Even so, I know that I am stronger now that I’ve ever been; that my discomfort and anxiety is all shaping me into the person I want to be in some way or another. I know these things because I see resilience every day. I see the people I love take huge leaps, regardless of how far they might fall. I see the way humans overcome adversity, even when things aren’t close to perfect, or even fair for that matter.

We are both the messiest parts of our minds and the strongest steps we take, and that’s okay.

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