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We were balancing in half-moon pose, trying to focus on opening while getting bigger, on breathing while remaining balanced. And, in that state, trying to let go.
Justin compared the process of letting go to the process of weeding a garden:
You have to look at the weeds to pull them out, but at the same time keep your heart focused on the garden and on what’s left after you remove the weeds.
What’s left after you remove the weeds?
The question immediately struck a nerve, and I could feel the sadness rise to the surface as the thought entered my mind: I don’t know what remains when the weeds are gone.
Well, in fairness, it’s not that I don’t know.
More accurately, I hold a fear of what remains if I pull out the weeds.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think most of us hold that fear and that’s why we struggle to let go.
The weeds at least give us something to look at. They are something tangible to hang on to. And they keep sprouting up. Removing the weeds is a task that always offers work to be done, and a way to escape the reality of what remains.
The weeds are not simply the brain junk that infiltrates our thoughts. That’s part of it, and that’s what I think Justin was referring to in his question.
But I see another layer: the weeds are also the roles we play in our lives.
By “role,” I mean anything that defines us relative to others. Our jobs or businesses, and our roles in community and family: parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, neighbor.
What’s left when we remove the weeds — the garden — is who we are.
The garden is our identity.
When Justin asked “What’s left when you remove the weeds?” what I heard was this:
Who are you outside the context of the roles you play?
I’ve been marinating on this issue a lot over the past several months as I have dived into what I named my process of “personal excavation.” As I’ve allowed myself to unfold into the experience of exploring the components of myself, I’ve asked myself questions that have required me to dig deep, as a way to pull out the weeds by the roots:
How do I define myself outside the context of what I do and the other roles I play in my life? What remains when I remove the labels of real estate broker, attorney, coach, aunt, daughter, friend? What exists when I strip away my accomplishments and achievements? Who would I be if I could no longer pursue my fitness activities, or flying trapeze, or my various hobbies? Are any of these things really essential to my identity, or are they simply posts to which I tie my sense of self as a convenient way to avoid the work of diving deeper beneath the surface?
These questions have taken on new urgency as I found myself coming up against a familiar resistance over the past week:
How do I present myself to others without relying on the familiar contextual clues of the roles I play?
Over the past week, I have lurked in the private Facebook group as others joined and introduced themselves. I read each introduction, and commented on several. But, despite being added to the group from the beginning, I have yet to officially introduce myself. In fact, I rarely introduce myself in any of the private Facebook groups or other communities in which I participate, even when I actively participate in those groups.
In these situations, I tend to be unsure of what to say. Which part of my story do I share? Which role do I use to create the context for who I am?
Our culture conditions us to define ourselves by the roles we fill. Time and again, I have observed how others lead their self-introductions by referring to a role they fill. Sometimes they lead with their family roles: wife, husband, mother, father, son, daughter, aunt, uncle. In most cases, they lead with their business role, or job. Some people have created unique titles or descriptions of what they do, but they are still defining themselves by a role, rather than their identity.
I understand why we define ourselves by our roles: it’s easy. It creates context.
Yet I find myself resistant to introducing myself by leading with what I do.
I can see that my resistance is at least partly rooted in a fear that people will stereotype me based on their perceptions of the roles I have played in my career. Most people have specific attitudes and opinions about various professions, and from what I’ve read and experienced, many people have negative feelings about lawyers (my former profession) and real estate brokers (my current primary business). My ego wants an opportunity to present myself without the need to overcome a potential negative bias rooted in cultural opinions of the role that I fill.
Another challenge that plays an equal part in the resistance is that no role that I fill fully captures who I am as a person. Lawyer and real estate broker aren’t the only roles I have played in the story of my life so far. At any one time, I am playing dozens of roles. I may bring who I am to my work, but what I do is not who I am.
Even my hobbies and passions don’t tell the full story of who I am. Who I am is a bigger picture that draws from across the segments of my life. It’s reflected not only in my career choices and hobbies, but also in my curiosities, values and beliefs. It is constantly evolving, as it should and as it will, for as long as I’m alive.
While I can discern a through-line in my life, it feels incomplete as measure of expressing my identity.
In my moments of clarity, I can recognize that a lot remains in my garden when I remove the weeds, but I don’t know the names of the flowers.
And so I wrestle with how to clearly, and succinctly, articulate who I am. This is the challenge that has drawn me into Louder Than Words. I suspect I’m not alone in this. As I navigate the book with hundreds of like-minded people over the next several weeks, I will continue to remove the weeds. And I hope to learn the names of the flowers, so that I can more clearly communicate who I am.
How do you introduce yourself to others?
Do you lead with your roles, your hobbies, or with a different aspect of your identity?
Please share in the comments!