Why Be Something When You Are Everything?

When I was a teenager, I was so shy, I could barely say hello to strangers. As I grew within a global corporation, I picked up a way of speaking, an easy humor and bluff confidence. Meeting others with a giant company logo behind me ensured a comfortable starting point. And then one day, I left the corporation and realized that the teenager remains alive inside, still uncertain, still feeling lost without a definition.

It was only then I could see clearly that my job had become more than a simple transaction in exchange for money: it had become a crutch for my very identity. Without it, I felt I could not stand – it was painful. One weekend last year, during my transition out of a full-time job, I discussed this with my mentor GD.

“Who we truly are is absolutely un-definable,” he reassured me. “Our attempts at a ‘fixed’ self definition are like trying to trap the sky into a box – just not possible. The mind desperately wants to define oneself and one’s life story: I am a CEO – I am a millionaire – I am creative – I am a husband. But deep down, we know that all these definitions are only temporary. And being temporary, all self definitions inherently create fear.”

I remembered how the fear of losing the position and business card made me resist any change in my corporate lifestyle for years. Even if it felt like muck, leaving a full-time job was unthinkable. So instead, every weekend, I would ask GD how I could use spirituality to make the muck a little more livable.

Our bondage is this deep desire for self-definition, GD would often say. But I wasn’t ready to hear this until much later, until that weekend after I had quit.

“The mind,” GD explained that weekend, “is seeking certainty and stability. So it creates numerous definitions and gets very attached to them. These definitions become ‘me’. So when these definitions are taken away, it feels like a death of some sort. Our true undefined nature scares the hell out of the mind. But if you truly want to flow with life, you have to embrace the fact that you can never be defined. You are too big, too vast for any label.

While writing this, it struck me that today, almost a year after this conversation, I rarely think about how I define myself anymore. I have developed a few stock phrases, which seem to satisfy most people who don’t really care about you anyway – they have too many problems of their own. I take the cue from my three-year-old son, who doesn’t care if he is called a gorilla or a genius – he is equally ecstatic to be alive either way.

And I try to remember GD’s statement: “When you cease trying to define yourself as ‘something’, you are suddenly free to be anything and everything.”

Lovely Image Used Under Creative Commons thanks to h. koppdelaney

9 thoughts on “Why Be Something When You Are Everything?

  1. This morning I had the very same thought as your blog title 🙂 came online and saw this post waiting in my feed 🙂

    I love the line: “So instead, every weekend, I would ask GD how I could use spirituality to make the muck a little more livable.” Its representative of a common error that leads to further disillusionment in souls already hurting from some existing challenge.

    Greatly appreciate your blogs Aalif – keep writing 🙂

  2. Good words and ones to live by. I think a lot of retired people have this problem of identity because they did define themselves by the work they were doing at the time.

    • Yes, I suppose it gets more crystallized in retired people only because they don’t have the hope of “new, improved” identities. But I think this cuts across all of us – for most men it is primarily their work, for women (especially in the eastern world) it is relationships. From the time we are children, we are taught that we should become somebody in life. There are so few people like GD to tell us about the joy of being our true formless self which can never be contained in any identity, however good or spiritual… Thank you for your comment.

  3. Pingback: What Role Are You Playing? « superaalifragilistic

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