You are not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.
– Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
If I had to ask you who you are, what would you say? Would you describe your family? Your ethnic background? The things you like to do? Maybe it’s a combination of several different characteristics that you feel make you the individual your are today.
Today, I want to touch on our identities. Last time, I wrote about the ego and how it loves drama [Read: Be Allergic To Drama]. Well, the ego is also fiercely protective of itself, and more importantly, its identity. Tell me how familiar these statements are: I need to find myself. I can’t help it, this is who I am. I think, therefore I am. Who am I?
What do I mean by our identities? In the most general outer sense, it could be anything you do or identify with – religious affiliations, political views, race, nationality, or hobbies: Australian, Korean, New Yorker, Packers fan, Christian, Democrat, salsa dancer, snowboarder, etc. In the deeper inner sense, our identities could be our fears, our pasts, worries, internal conflicts, failures, successes, personalities, and tensions.
Our egos love to attach themselves onto these identities to define who we are when in fact, it’s far from that. On one hand, identities seem to give our life meaning and purpose while defining us as individuals. On the other end of the spectrum, identities also define our limits while separating ourselves from others who we consider different, leading to conflicts ranging from petty arguments to insane genocide.
See, without an identity, the ego will cease to exist. If this all sounds new to you, then I can hear the questions already. What am I then? What’s the purpose of living without knowing who I am? Don’t I need an identity or my mind to survive? Am I supposed to pretend the past never happened or that my problems don’t exist?
Hold on a sec there. Let’s just rewind and take a slow approach, and I’ll wade into those deep topics at a later time. The first identity I want to write about today is the one most of us can relate to, and that is failure.
“You are not your failures.”
For those of us who’ve played the Game of Life, we’ve had our share of bumpy roads, fast lanes, traffic jams, and uneventful times on the Interstate. Most of us have experienced the low times – maybe you’re going through one now – and our egos succeed best in not letting them go.
All too often, we convert our failures into lifelong identities: fat, stupid, lazy, obsessive compulsive, divorcee, financial failure, procrastinator, unreliable, unloving, loser, etc. When our failures become ingrained so deep in our identities, they become a part of us, like a mind-controlling alien parasite. Really. You can’t stop thinking about your problems, and you’re stuck somewhere else, ignoring the present moment. You consume hours of your day, and ultimately weeks out of years, brooding and fretting without realizing it. The parasitic failure identity is essentially a virus, oblivious of the host, eating away at everything, destroying its host, and ultimately itself. It dictates future decisions making while inhibiting one from moving forward confidently in a positive direction.
But this is my point: Don’t Let Your Life Situations Become Your Identity.
You are not your failures. You are not what other people think of you, good or bad. You are not the problems in your life or your past negative events or life situations.
What I mean by life situation is simply that. You need to extract yourself, be the watcher, the game player. Failure’s just part of the human condition. It’s actually pretty hard to lose the game, even in death, which is our common journey. Only your egoic mind, the one fixated on where you should be in life, who you should be, and what you should be doing, is the one telling you that you’re losing. It’s comparing you to others, whether real life or fictitious (it can’t tell the difference), and racing towards a happiness that never arrives.
“Failure’s just part of the human condition.”
They’re your experiences. You learn from them. If you don’t, and your ego takes hold, then you’ll likely make the same mistakes over and over again. Same bad relationships. Same lack of motivation. Same problems with money. Same general dissatisfaction. Some people never recognize negative patterns in their lives, don’t know why they repeat them, or at worse are addicted to them (drama). Or maybe things get better, but a strong ego will seeks new complaints to latch onto, its thirst for dissatisfaction never been quenched. For example, you always wanted to have your own car, and after finally buying a used Toyota, now you want a new BMW. Or you finally got the promotion you’ve waited 5 years for, but now you’ll spend the next 5 wanting to be a partner in the company.
At this juncture, you have two choices. The first is acceptance. If you can accept a negative life situation, then you’ve found peace and/or forgiveness, no longer offer resistance to what is, and the problem no longer creates any tension in your life. You’ve successfully released it. Sometimes, you really can’t change your outer circumstances, and it really is the best thing to do.
The second is marching towards a solution. I’m guessing that if you’re reading this post, you don’t want certain events to repeat. You’re stuck in neutral, pressing on the gas, but nothing’s happening. Energy is burned, but you’re not moving anywhere. If you want to get to first gear (and if I want to stop the driving metaphors 🙂 ) , then you have to catch yourself wasting time – precious time that can not be recouped – worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Once you’ve freed yourself , then you can concentrate on solutions.
Give it some time, however – I know it’s not easy. If you want, keep a small notebook, and keep a log of your successes to encourage yourself along the way. And as always, don’t beat yourself up if you experience a slip-up. What’s important is that in the grand scheme, you’re constantly moving forward.
“Recognize failures, losses, whether in your control or not, are simply life situations.”
When was the last time you had a down moment? How about an up moment? Our ups and downs are like the constant currents and eddies along a river. When times are great, it’s amazing and you’re conquering Class 5 rapids with ease. Conversely, when you’re coping with failure, you feel miserable, barely able to stay afloat, and drowning in a churning whirlpool. Good times only feel good because we have failures to compare them against. If we were always on a high, it wouldn’t feel so great. I know this because I know people who’ve barely touched work in their lives, have nothing to do, and have become complete recluses. Accept the cycle of ups and downs. What’s important is that when the chips are down, that you don’t get completely swallowed in your failure.
Recognize failures, losses, whether in your control or not, are simply life situations. They happen to everyone. I’ve definitely had my share [Read: Loss, Recovery, And Something To Read When You’re Feeling Down]. Life situations are simply that. Part of life. But they are not you. When you are able to separate your life from your life situation, or your identity with your failures, whether past or present, then you can move towards a better life situation. If your problems are ongoing, then only by releasing your attention from them can you look towards new solutions. Or, if you can’t find a solution, then to find peace through acceptance.
Love the moment, and the energy of the moment will spread beyond all boundaries.
– Corita Kent