I’m reading a lot this summer. I find it easier to encourage the kids to complete their summer reading if I’m also doing my own. One book that I needed to read this summer was Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin. If you’ve read my blog over the last few years you’ve probably heard all about many of her books by now (just click her tag at the bottom of this post), but reading Happier at Home was like a refresher from The Happiness Project.
The big take-away for me in this summer of turmoil is that I need to just be me to be happy. It’s okay that I’m different from a lot of my friends and definitely my family. I have to stop letting the way others label me define how I feel about myself. I need to just go back to doing my thing in order to be my best me.
Rubin offers some good tips if you’re looking for where to start on finding yourself. The overarching theme of her books tends to be: Find what works for you. So, when I finished Happier at Home, I realized that I still have some work to do if I want to live my own authentic life. The first step (for me) is defining who I am.
This is a pet project of mine that (I hope) will someday turn into my PhD research project. I am always curious as to how people define themselves. Each semester I meet a large number of new students. I ask them to do the boring and tedious task of introductions. Very rarely do I learn much about my students from this experience. I have Googled various ice breaker techniques for college students and failed to find one that I would be willing to do. My enthusiasm for learning about them is still not enough for them to open up to this total stranger in the first hour of class…..especially if it’s a class that they’re required to take.
I get the usual response from most students: Name, Year, Major, maybe home town; and for a select few: a tidbit about how else they define themselves. See, I work at two different types of schools: a university filled with mostly “Traditional Students” and a community college filled with a mix of traditional and “Non-Traditional Students”. That second category can mean Early College Students or anyone over the “regular” college age. Can you guess which students are more apt to share? Can you guess who has a more defined idea of who they are?
I wonder if I should just ask them that: Who are you? I wonder what response I would get this fall when I meet 120 new faces in 5 classes?
The flip-side of all of this is that I need to be able to define myself; and not only to them. I did some soul-searching on this very topic when I read Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. And I feel like it’s part of my every day practice of Svadhyaya. But, it’s also a curious topic that I was fortunate enough to discuss for a bit yesterday afternoon with Author Mina Samuels.
We were talking about a discussion that I had this spring with my running partner….about how we define ourselves. My running partner is currently a stay-at-home mom and continually found herself answering the question, “What do you do?” with that definition: “I stay at home.” It was starting to weigh on her and make her feel like that was ALL she was at this time in her life. But, “stay-at-home mom” didn’t truly define all the parts of her life. She’s a daughter, a mother, a wife, a friend, a sister, a former teacher, a member of her church, a bit of an artist…..and…..my favorite…..a RUNNER! I asked her what it would be like if she changed how she defined herself by putting this first. What if, the next time she met someone new, she answered, “I’m a runner. I’m training for my first 15k.”?
She hasn’t told me if she’s had the opportunity to try it out yet, but I’m curious how a shift in definition might work for each of us? For me, how should I define myself this fall? I define myself in so many ways depending upon who I am talking to, but how will my students know me? And which definition is the one that brings me the most happiness? This is a topic I will be exploring a lot in the coming months. For now:
Which definition of yourself do you use when you meet new people?
Which definition makes you most happy?