It’s Who You Are, Not What You Are, That’s Important In This Life

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Elise Mesner

“So…what’s your five year plan?” Um. Shoot. “Pass.”

“Okay, well, what do you want to be when you grow up?” (…runs away).

Society heavily emphasizes the need for us to know exactly what we want to be when we “grow up.” What particular role will we play in society? What will our title be? The pressure to define ourselves starts early on…even as early as elementary school. Once career week rolls around, we decisively choose what we want to be, without hesitation. As 5 year olds, we firmly state that we will be astronauts, dolphin trainers, and princesses, without a care in the world. We are on our way to conquer the world. And sure, some of us stick with these goals from back in the day…or something somewhat similar, but most of us? Most of us search desperately to find out what we “need” to be. What degree we “need.” What job we are planning to take on. The pressure intensifies as we declare our college major (…or as we go back 5 times to fill out a form to change our major). We are taught to believe that through choosing a major, we are choosing a job, and we are thereby choosing a life.  We are choosing our identity, all by bubbling in an option on a little slip of paper. At least, that’s how it’s portrayed by advisors, teachers, and your best friend’s parents when they ask you what your future goals are.

And yes, many of us do have different ideas of what we are interested in, and vague ideas of what careers we might pursue. Or maybe we just listen to our parents when they tell us to major in X, Y, or Z, as if we do, we’ll be on the path to success.  But a lot of us? A lot of us feel pretty clueless; we float around hoping to bump into something that will work out for us. We anxiously run through the multitude of options of “what” we can be, jotting down pros and cons, meeting with “academics” and advisors. Does this sound familiar? Is this you? Relax. You’re not alone. You just have to start by opening up your mind to the idea that you are under no obligation to decide “what” you want to be forever. Your only obligation is to simply BE.

Society has intoxicated our minds by leading us to believe that our sheer value is attained only through “what” we are; i.e., our careers and our materialistic goals. But success and value are attained through living a life in which are minds are in equilibrium with our hearts. A life in which who we are defines us much more than what we do or what we do not do. Our failures do not define us; nor do our successes. Constantly attempting to manipulate your life such that it is solely purpose driven, or defined by one single “purpose” will quite often inescapably lead to heartbreak.


Life changes every second of every minute of every day. This implies that we change as well, at this same ongoing rate. Sometimes these are steady changes, and sometimes these are dynamic life rocking changes. Once we graduate, we are pressured to start a job in a field that may be our job for life. The problem here is that our brains are not even fully developed yet in or 20s…our personalities are not even developed! We will develop intellectually and creatively. We will grow in new ways we didn’t think possible. We will learn more about ourselves.  So why do we stay all night worrying that now, living in our 20s, we haven’t found our passion, or that we don’t know what our forever job will be? We don’t know what we will “be.”

So what’s the stress-relieving answer to this whole big problem of what your future is going to look at? The solution is to focus on WHO you want to be each day of your life, rather than what you want to be, or what accomplishments you reach or don’t reach. The golden ticket is to allow who you are to guide you to where you wind up in the end. You don’t need trophies or letters of recommendation to confirm that you are a successful human being. What you do need, is to be living a life that feels well within your soul.

Accepting ourselves for simply who we are on the inside is no simple task; it’s a skill that takes practice and dedication, and that takes the willingness to be understanding and less critical of ourselves. We have a tendency to cling on to an external definition of ourselves, such that we have something we can use to prove ourselves to the world. We want to have a label so we feel that we are needed here in society, and in an exact quantitative and set way. The realization that we are needed here for simply who we are takes a shift of mind and a delicate vulnerability that may take time to acquire. We are needed for our own individual qualities, as well as for our values and for our identities. We are defined simply by our heartbeat, by our favorite season, and by the way we fall asleep. We are defined by our friendships, our interests, and our passions. Our qualities, our values, our unique identities. We have to find the courage to have faith in these identities…to realize that these are enough. These are incredibly enough.

To open up, even to open to ourselves, involves becoming completely vulnerable and completely raw. And this rawness? This is what we have to offer to the world – it’s what we connect with one another on. It’s how we relate to our surroundings. It’s how we learn to love ourselves. We owe it to ourselves to wear our hearts on our sleeves as we embrace ourselves for simply just being. When we truly show up in life, and show the world who we are, we are capable of sharing our compassion, our humility, and our love with those around us.  But we can do this by dropping the need to define ourselves. We don’t need to categorize our souls, we just need to become friends with our selves. We have to make peace with just “being” and letting the rest of our lives fall into place naturally. Sometimes it can surprise us when we simply just let ourselves be ourselves.

Defining ourselves by who we are, rather than what we are does not mean that we are careless or lazy. We can and should still strive to reach goals, and to be better versions of ourselves. But we can simultaneously release the pressure to seek happiness through our career or our possession. Or to seek a definition of ourselves in our title.  For if we can let go of these external definitions, we can let go of the need for a specific job, person, or relationship to bring us happiness; for now, we will be able to be happy just by being alive.

Trying to manipulate our lives and fulfill X number of accomplishments, or X number of goals by age 30 doesn’t necessarily make your life any better. Maybe it brings you joy at times, but what can bring you joy for much more of your life is being yourself. It is learning, discovering, and creating who you are. It is being someone who you look up to and admire, someone who you love. You see, in the long run, it’s your moral bucket list, rather than your resume, that holds true value. It’s the way shine and the way you cast your glow on the world that trumps the letters attached to your last name, or the job title mounted on the wall outside your office. The funny thing is, the more you embrace who you are, the more likely you are to come into a career which does in fact reflect your strengths and desires, hopes and ambitions. So please realize that even without a title, without a professional “definition” of yourself, you already are someone. There’s no wrong or right way to do this thing called life so long as you live a life that fulfills your needs.  As long as you listen to your intuition and follow what you love, you will never go wrong.

So who are you really? Think before you answer this. Maybe you are exceptionally kind, or exceptionally caring…this is the you who will shine in this world. Maybe you value honesty and morality above all – this is who YOU are. Realize that you already are someone without a definition. Without a label. Realize that you are already complete, just by being you.

Life is about who you are, not what you are. TC mark

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