“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s easy to view our life on a spectrum of age, but maybe a better way would be to view it would be on a spectrum of who I was, who I am now, and who am I becoming?
Who am I? That is a question that has always puzzled me. I never knew where to go after my name and my position at work.
It’s a multi-dimensional question that has many answers which are always changing. It is a question that should be lived with and not answered too quickly. We should not ruin a good question with an answer. Who am I? is a very good question.
Maybe we could expand that question into three different parts. Who was I? Who am I now? Who am I becoming? These questions, like our age, are always moving. I am older today than I was yesterday. I’m not the same person today that I was yesterday. They say you can’t step in the same river twice
So maybe we shouldn’t come up with a quick answer to that question and try to hang onto it for too long. Because it may change as soon as tomorrow. But how do we begin to answer the question in the first place?
I think one of the ways to answer that question might be to focus first on who we were. What would people say about me when I am gone or when I am not listening. Would they describe me in terms of my position at work or my place in society, or would they describe me in terms of my character, what kind of person I was? What effect did I have on their life or the world in general in a positive way Would they describe me in terms of my accomplishments or my character?
The harsh truth is that other people see who we are more clearly than we do.
Listening to the stories about Queen Elizabeth this week made me think about how we are described after we’re gone. Almost all of the descriptions were about her character, sense of humor, and her decency as a human being. Queen Elizabeth showed us a life lived well. We saw it from childhood to death.
The answer to who I am might be between who I was and who I am becoming. We are our aspirations.
In the first half of life, we are not too concerned about these questions. We are more concerned about creating a persona that makes us appear as we think we are or would like to be. In the second half of life, we tend to spend more time with these questions. As David Brooks said, “In the first half of life, we are concerned with our resume virtues. In the second half of life, we are more concerned with our legacy virtues.
The answer to who I was is visible to all who know us. The answer to who I am becoming is not often visible to others and maybe not even to us. Are your aspirations visible? Contemplate who you were and who you are becoming, and you will discover who you are.
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