What makes people tick? What makes people do the things they do, say the things they say, how does any human define themselves?
I think the most common mistake we make is to define ourselves by what we do, e.g., our professions. I myself am guilty of that. As a surgeon I spend so much time in the cage of my professional life that it‘s deceivingly easy to fall into that trap. If someone were to ask me right this very second „Who are you?“ I would very readily reply „I am a surgeon“, or perhaps „I am a doctor“. But I can guarantee that it would be either of the two. Funny, isn‘t it, because that would actually be the answer to the question „What are you?“ or more correctly even „What do you do for a living?“. However, my answer wouldn‘t be altogether wrong. Being a surgeon, a doctor, is partly what defines me. It defines the way I look at people, at society as a whole; it defines how much time I have left in my life to spend it on anything but medicine – precious little. It defines – and I really don‘t like to admit that – how I estimate, value and judge other people‘s lives (example? Oh, you feel exhausted after a 40 hour work week where you mostly sat behind a desk staring at a computer screen? Try working 120 hours a week covered in any human fluid and we‘ll talk again….). I believe that being a surgeon is a privilege, but it also gives me an unfair advantage. I never – honestly never – have to worry about where I find my sense of self worth. I work impossible hours, weekends, nights, holidays; I am faced with the worst diseases of mankind, I am, too often, the bearer of terrible news; I am smart and my knowledge allows me to help those in need; and at the end of the day, I save human lives. A mere thought that zaps through my brain, a mere few movements of my hands save lives. No one can ever take that away from me – I am a superhero, very much human, very much imperfect, too frequently tired and grumpy and stressed – but yeah, I save lives so that makes me valuable, even to myself (who grew up feeling pretty much worthless #abuse #alcoholicparent #childhoodtrauma).
I look around myself and OMG I am more grateful than ever for coming so naturally by my sense of worth through my profession! I see people struggling to find some kind of identity and a hell of a lot fall into popular trap number 2: the parent. Don‘t get me wrong – I am just as proud a parent as the next person and have been known to show pictures of my beautiful children to strangers 😉 I brag about their athleticism, their grades, their characters. But just as often I will talk about their flaws, their shortcomings, their struggles. My children are, after all, human. They are not perfect, not even to me. I love them, I am proud of them. But I also know they aren’t perfect.
I see people post picture after picture after story after story about their childrens‘ daily achievements. They will make sure to point out how „pretty“ or „precious“ or „beautiful“ or „smart“ or or or any superlative characteristic they could possibly think of their children are – daring anyone to comment differently. Just imagine you were to write a comment in the nature of „really? You think thats an achievement? Don‘t you have anything, literally anything else to do with your life than post the 100th picture of your child doing a daily, ordinary thing?“
Feelings would get hurt. The one posting would feel offended. And you would end up being dissed, unfriended, blocked. And why? Just because you said what almost everyone else thinks.
And here is the tricky part. I don‘t think people would be offended because they feel you insult their child; they would be offended because they define themselves through their children, solely and completely, and by pointing out the obvious truth – that there is nothing remotely special about the pictures or stories they post – you take away their sense of worth, possibly even their sense of identity.
I want to grab those people by the shoulders and shake them and say: you are so much more than just a mother, just a father, just a XXXX (fill in the blanks) – who are you? What are you? What defines you? What have you done lately that you are proud of – not your kids – you? It doesn‘t have to be extraordinary, just something that made you feel good about yourself.
How many people do you think would have an answer to that?
Pick one person today – someone you work with, a friend, a family member – and ask them to tell you who they are. I am curious to find out what people say – let me know!
Look at your children with a sense of envy for a moment, because they know exactly who they are. If I ask my children „Who are you“ – they will answer with one word, and one word only: their name. And thats perfect, thats enough, thats all anyone can ever hope to be – themselves. Children haven‘t yet caught on to the tragic great lie society as a whole suffers from – that its expected that we all pretend to be something we are not, something bigger, something more, something „worth“ more. Why do we actually like it when other people are jealous of what we have? Why do we feel the need to compare, to show off? My house, my car, my boat, my plane; my children (oh! My biggest „achievement“!), my job, my vacations, my size 4 figure. It’s shameful, really. When I look at the people I love – I seriously don‘t give a good goddamn about their material belongings or their looks. I care about what’s in their hearts, their kindness, their humor, their character. And I find that I want to share with them all that I have; that I am happy for them for all they have and are. Love trumps ego. Thank God for that.
So. Who am I today?
I am a 43 year old woman who is beyond exhausted from two weeks of non-stop shifts at the hospital. I am a surgeon, a wife to a wonderfully complicated woman, a pilot, a mom to both human and furry kids; I am a writer, a musician, an avid reader, a smartass, a kind soul. I am all of that and so much more but really? Today, all I am and all I want to be is just that:
Thats good, thats enough, thats all.
What about you?