What defines you? How do you define yourself? The questions appear similar at a glance, but they can be entirely different. This is something that has been on my mind for a few days now. Lately the more something stays on my mind, the more likely it is to end up on paper. Virtual paper at least. Back to the question(s) at hand. What defines you? Is it the things that you do? Is it your perceptions of yourself? Or is it something entirely different?
I find that being defined by the “what” isn’t always bad, but it does need to be kept in check. I believe actions speak louder than words. I know that the things I do will partially define me. However, I think the “what” often defines me more in the eyes of others than how I define myself. I’ve recognized this since early on in life. The context where I develop relationships with people affects how they see me. When I was younger this meant that I was either “the weird homeschooled kid”, or “the kid who hits homeruns” (my athletic career peaked at 12). In jr. high and high school I kept the weird homeschool part of me, but added other taglines. I was now also a “friend from church”, an “athlete”, and before long “aren’t you that guy in a band?”. See, in every context I made friends and connections that were special, but in each situation I wonder how I was perceived? I recognized that all these different aspects of my life contribute to who I am, but do any of them define me? As a whole person?
Unfortunately there have been times where I have let the “what” define me entirely. Last summer was a prime example. I let myself get caught up in being defined as a “scientist”. It was far too easy actually. At the start I saw it in a positive light. I was working long hours, but I told myself it was because I was motivated. That’s a good quality right? I got a taste of success and the number of hours I worked continued to grow. Still not necessarily a bad thing though… That is until the lab became my priority, my life, and what defined me. I don’t know when the transition occurred, but soon lab was my excuse and reason for everything. My excuse for not hanging out with friends? “I have to go to lab”. When I was in a bad mood? “Things just aren’t going well in lab right now”. Why I was tired, insensitive, and selfish? “I just have to focus on lab right now, it’ll end soon”.
It did end. I wish I could say by my own doing. A sudden realization that I was missing out on what counts, but it was actually something else. I got scooped. Basically what that means is that at the time we were preparing to publish my results and findings, another group published the exact same thing, but before I could. All of that time, all of the work, and know what I got out of it? A bunch of clear tubes in a freezer that I haven’t touched in months. I was crushed. You know why? Because I was being defined by my work. It was clear from my actions and my decisions who I was, I was “a scientist”. That’s not how I want to live. Even if I hadn’t been scooped, know what I would have gotten from all of that? My name on a piece of paper. A piece of paper that few would ever read and even fewer would care about. That’s would have been my reward for being defined as “a scientist”.
If being defined by the “what” is bad, then “defining yourself” must be the way to go, right? Again, I feel like this is a double edged sword (side note: isn’t a single edged sword just a big knife? I’ve never really understood the phrase). In a healthy light “defining yourself” may present an opportunity to outline your priorities and your values. Sadly, our human nature makes it so that even these well intended thoughts often end up being misdirected. At least mine does. I want to look at my composite parts and determine what is most important. I want to collect my thoughts and know that what makes me “Josh Linscott” is actually a combination of: the things that I do, what I believe, how I feel, and ultimately how that translates into actions. Often though I end up instead defining myself by my desires, my failures, and what I think will impress others.
That seems like a conflicting list doesn’t it? How do I define myself by my failures and what I think will impress others? Maybe that’s the root of the problem. When I “define myself” to others I don’t have to reveal all my thoughts, but regardless of how hard I try I can’t hide any thoughts from myself. On the inside I end up conflicted. A lot of this spills over from my recent experiences. For the last several months I’ve been defining myself as “the kid who’s donating his liver” and that’s also how I’ve been defined, but that chapter in my life is mostly over. So now what? This experience will forever be a part of me and part of who I am, but I don’t want it to define me.
I guess at the heart of it that this is really what this blog is about. Over the past year the “what” has defined me as “the guy who has a sick dad” or “the guy who is donating his liver” and for awhile that’s how I’ve defined myself, but that’s not who I am! It seems like who we are and how we see ourselves should be entirely obvious. Yet its not. Who we are is a complex sum of parts, actions, beliefs, and experiences that makes a singular identity. That identity is so complex that sometimes we miss out on its base elements. Have you even talked with a friend, told them a strength you admire and had them give you a questioning look of astonishment? One of the things you value most, they can’t even see. To them, this quality is so innate they don’t even see it. They don’t acknowledge it as a strength, but its defines them none the less.
At the end of all this babbling I’m less sure than ever that this is even coherent, but I’ll try and summarize. I don’t want to be defined by a what. Not a career, not an event, not a single line generalization like “the guy in the band”. I want to define myself, but I screw up even that. Instead what I’ll do is try to compile my parts, and my actions and ask “Do I want this to define Josh Linscott”. Honestly, right now there are some things that are part of me that I don’t want defining me, but luckily there others that I do want to define me. I realize that I’m not complete, but a work in progress. One of the things that defines me is I believe that God is out there and he has a plan for me. I believe that even though I’m not complete and at times I’m actually quite broken, that he accepts that and loves me the same.
Let me rephrase the question. How are you defined?
p.s. One of my parts is music. It allows me to create, think, and reflect. This is a song I recorded last week that helped lead to this blog. http://www.myspace.com/joshlinscott/music/songs/i-39-ll-take-your-broken-heart-88376272