Yet another rant on… Self Identity

I, Me, Myself.

Perceived as such selfish words, at a glance. I thought so too- at first, at least.

I know that our lives are defined, so often, by our hard work, character, the way we impact our circle of acquaintances, friends, relationships- which I truly believe is fair and honorable.

But this- à la rant- is not about that.

Why? Because it’s all external. We, as individuals, are so very deeply used to defining ourselves by a standard, some standard of something somewhere, that when we start looking at ourselves without the gung-ho surrounding us- we are lost.

And I did… I felt that, I was so very lost. I am still so very lost.

See, I come from a society that imbibes conformity even in diversity. It’s subtle sometimes, mostly not so much. I tried to break myself from it to a certain extent. I’ve seriously asked myself what I wanted to do with my life, both career-wise and personally. I’ve come to a conclusion and communicated it to my parents. And I was maybe luckier than most to have them consider my perspective, and agree to it eventually.

And then I was back on the run, reaching for the goals I’ve set for myself, constantly trying to be better- taking well deserved breaks sometimes. I was at a good place in life, all things considered.

But then as I saw more of the world, more of people, I realized people have a wider berth to slot themselves into. There is no one size fits all; I saw people make a place for themselves, try to define themselves without the noise. There was no linear understanding of things, no black and white. And as a person from a society which only sees things in monochrome, I was absolutely blinded by the colors.

I started asking myself questions I never would’ve asked before, not because I did not know the answers- but simply because those questions weren’t really important for a successful life- get a job by 25, get married at 26, have two kids by 29, retirement by 60 and then happily ever after.

But a successful life according to who? What even is happiness? What would I consider a winning life for myself? Those were my very first of questions. In a world so extensively divided, we often have such sequential ideas of success, happiness etc. etc.

And before I knew, it was a downward spiral into the rabbit hole of never-ending and most times unnecessary angst filled self-torture in the name of identifying myself.

Who am I, without my relationships defining me? Without my color, caste, creed, gender? Who was I? Before I made mistakes, before I was jaded? What made me become who I am now? How I changed? What changes me? What makes me tick? What makes me smile or cry? What makes me define my success, my failures, my shortcomings? What impacts me? What does not?

Well… you get the idea.

I fell and it was so colossally overwhelming… after all it was 23 years of catching up I had to do with myself.

I distanced myself from everything, just to figure myself out. I didn’t realize I was unwittingly harming myself mentally, though. I was still laughing with friends, going out for an occasional beer, watching movies- I was functioning, all while undermining what I was going through. But I was also internally panicking at thoughts of public presentations or social gatherings more often than not. I’d think extensively of creative ways to cancel on plans and be alone to myself. I’ve had people chalk it up to ‘feeling under the weather’, mood swings, laziness, not-enough-motivation, PMS and so many other things. All because they didn’t know better; Because I didn’t know better.

Eventually I gathered up enough courage to go to a school counselor. The diagnosis of ‘Social Anxiety’ was terrifying for all of five seconds. “Almost 72% of population your age all over the world goes through a self-identity crisis and Social anxiety is just a side effect”, they had told me, “It is so much more common than you can possibly imagine.”

The relief, I felt upon realizing that I was not alone in all of this weirdness, was way too short-lived- making way to an absolutely indignant, ‘Then why the hell is it not more known?’ and more importantly, ‘If so many 20-somethings are going through this, why aren’t steps being taken to address it openly instead of waiting for unwitting suspects like me to come crawling?’

Then it struck me, for all the training we get, all the world-class educational institutes we attend to make ourselves better externally, there’s no school, no ‘How to’ guide for identifying things about ourselves as we grow. Nobody ever told me to keep a track of myself as I grew up- just my progress externally. Nobody ever mentioned- not even in passing- how important it was to shut out the white noise around, close my eyes and think of 5Ws and 1H with respect to myself.

Nobody does. But they should. We should. For how else is Self-Actualization possible?