I thought I understood and knew who I am until an old lady sitting next to me on the subway asked me to tell her about myself. I stumbled on the words and stuttered and “umm”ed my way through my rocky sentences. I was jealous of her. Jealous of how each wrinkle on her face traced a story I could predict – or at least I thought I could. The way she couldn’t finish a sentence without a smile said how grateful for life she is. She wore her grey hair like they’re a crown of reward for every battle she defeated. She told me it’s okie to not know who I am, she said it’s alright to be unsure. But damn it, I wanted to be sure so bad.
I am not one with “I found myself in the middle of nowhere” stories. I am still struggling to define myself in the simplest of ways. Growing up in Egypt has made the identity-discovering process a bit complex. I am Christian, living in an Islamic country. I speak and write English better than my mother tongue. I am privileged in a country that most of it struggle to put a loaf of bread on their table. I am this in that and I am that in this; and between the lines of this confusion; I fail to identify myself. Living in Egypt is living a paradoxical oxymoron.
Identity is challenging to recognize, it is not as obvious as the color of our flesh; it is hidden in what we choose to associate ourselves with. We are not born with our identity and we don’t always have to know who we are. Our identity changes and evolves over time, even if the time frames are just a few hours away. For example, who you are at 3p.m., during the peak rush hour of your day, whether you’re at work or uni, trying to make time pass by slower so you can finish the task in your hand is not who you are at 3a.m. when you’re lying in bed with your anxious thoughts getting the best of you and you just want time to fly so you can get to the point where you fall asleep. Your identity at work or university is not the same identity at home; there are different versions of ourselves in different places or around different people, but they all fall under the big identity umbrella; who you are at the core, which are all the common traits between all these small identities.
There are many layers and corners of ourselves that we have not yet been exposed to. The more we see of ourselves, the more ability we will have to identify who we are. In our Egyptian culture, we are often unconsciously forced to identify ourselves with who our parents are or the values they planted in us. When you’re in the process of discovering who you are from within, take the time to define yourself based on who you solely are.
Here’s an exercise to discovering self-identity:
Think of your personal skills, potentials; what are you made up of?
Try thinking of what you believe your purpose is for this stage of life.
Then imagine yourself standing in solidarity in the middle of a desert, in the middle of nothingness, describe who is standing there; there are no external factors whatsoever to who you are in this desert, it is just you.
The result of this exercise is not final, you might not always be that. Our identity keeps changing throughout our lifespan. Sometimes, we are unable to even identify ourselves and that doesn’t make us any less of who we are.
This exercise may or may not work. In an attempt of discovering my self-identity through the previous exercise, it felt like I have just met a stranger in this desert, I didn’t recognize myself. It was hectic and tiring because it felt like I was stuck with a stranger I barely knew, a stranger from the other side of the world who spoke a different language so communication was nearly impossible. But we used sign language; we adapted to the circumstances until it didn’t feel like a stranger anymore; until I finally felt like myself again.
It’s a euphoric feeling to know yourself, to know who you truly are. You will trust your gut feeling and you will find any decision you make credible. You will know exactly what is it you want and long for and you will chase it fearlessly.
There are days or even phases when you won’t be able to identify yourself in the simplest ways; you will be unsure of what you want for lunch. You will not recognize your reflection in the mirror. But know that there are other times when you will know yourself skin deep. Maybe today you don’t, but tomorrow you might. Tomorrow, hopefully, you will.