Updated: Feb 12, 2021
‘Who do you want to be?’
My therapist asked me this the other day. A few years previously I would’ve said without a moment’s thought, ‘Either Judi Dench or Emma Thompson. I don’t mind which”. But now? I found myself in silence.
I brought this up with a friend earlier in the year, when we could happily walk around outside past 5pm clad in linen trousers and a mere vest. I broke down to her in a cliched, post pubescent tantrum about how I ‘so desperately wanted someone else to decide who I was for the day’.
She rolled her eyes at me, and said we both very well know I had just been reciting the “I want someone to tell me how to live my life” monologue from Fleabag…
But, that being said, the question remained, who am I? I’m not the first to have thought of it, far from it. But isn’t that why it’s so terrifying?
‘Finding yourself’. Two words greatly despised by most who didn’t go on a gap year, or brushed off as a privileged folly. But actually it holds a lot of significance. Forget the drug fuelled antics and drunken tattoos, the ambition to find oneself seems to be kickstarted by a wave of adrenaline that pushes a lot of us after we leave school.
A term coined by many modern psychologists is ‘self-realisation or actualisation’, in which Gerwith (a famous American philosopher) defines: “It is bringing oneself to flourishing completion...the successful culmination of ones aspirations and potentialities”. This can sound very vague, but the understanding is reflected in the modern day. From aiding the development of infancy, to more recognisably, the western interpretation of Eastern religions like Buddhism. The relationship between the ideal self (who we see ourselves to be) and our actual self (who we are) is thought to show to what extent our self-esteem and mind are content.
Now it must be noted, psychological research must be taken with a pinch of salt sometimes, though some would argue a vat’s worth. There are many issues with methods of research and validity within psychology, but what I found really speaks volumes, was the recognition of emotional unease that occurs when there is a notable discrepancy between the ideal and actual self.
For example, an ideal that is brought upon us, is a series of preconceptions upheld by society aimed at women. What women wear, do, say and be all the time. Instead of being able to simply think about women’s individual needs. First we must meet a benchmark, then and only then, do we have the potential to flourish as an individual equal in the world.
The effort it takes to maintain the minimum standard of acceptability in society is exhausting (and expensive!). Not to mention, so consuming that I personally hadn’t been aware of my ‘aspirations and potentialities’ as a person. I’d been unable to escape from the burdens and expectations handed by society to be both busy, fit, healthy and happy, whilst also coping with the fact that I may not be able to work in the industry I want to. And I know that I am now alone in feeling overwhelmed by this.
Because of a mere 10 months of global panic, a lot of us have been forced to be idle. With a government telling people like myself who are in the creative industry, to perhaps take a second glance at the career’s advisors notes (who concluded that I’d make a successful tree surgeon I might add). To feel fulfilled creatively seemed like a mountain too high to climb.
For many women, in the West and Globally, our identity somewhat regressed back to ‘daughter’, ‘mother’, ‘lover’ and ‘wife’, (not all simultaneously) as women disproportionately lost their jobs in their pandemic.
No wonder then, did I find myself on the end of the phone to my therapist, wide eyed and in silence.
What I’ve begun to acknowledge is that there is no prescription for a self-actualised life. I’ll never suddenly wake up one day and feel like I’ve filled all the above criteria for my ideal self. But if I do wake up, grateful, proud and inspired, and I’m able to notice my worth by focusing on these feelings. That’s enough.
The process of recognising and not disregarding our emotions is crucial to trusting and forming a better relationship with our identity. What I’ve learnt is that it doesn’t as much rely on my work, my esteem, my friendships, my relationships or even my follower count as it does on how I feel right now, in this moment, in my life.
Gewirth, Alan. Self-Fulfillment. Princeton University Press, 1998. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7tbk6. Accessed 9 Dec. 2020.