Turning a year older has, while losing its superficial fanfare, allowed me to set aside time to realign myself. Goals and aspirations are relatively easy to establish and can be acted on during the routine of working life, but self-reflection tends to be that heavy fog you never quite want to peer through. I’ve found asking yourself personal questions can uncover where ‘your self’ currently lies, as well as providing clarity on how to alter the particular path you might be cascading down. Have I been responsible? Have I acted in ways that my future self would not condone? Am I worthy of displaying myself as the perfect example, or is that just a façade? These questions, in comparison to abstract, existential ones, have direct answers. We all know what we have done or how we have acted away from the scrutiny of social media validation. Whether we can admit those answers to ourselves or not is a different matter, but the answers don’t stay hidden for long. Our insufficiencies tend to rear their ugly heads unwittingly, and so I would rather halt them in their tracks than let them fester into negative behaviour in the coming year.
Lewis Carroll touched on this in Alice in Wonderland by positing the question:
“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
Alice asks this question of herself as she transforms into a giant and scares the White Rabbit away, and it’s clear that she’s forced to confront her own identity in a universe that is challenging every perception she previously held. It’s a fact of life that we all have to go through numerous phases, often losing ourselves entirely, to discover our real, unedited selves. Societal pressures and heavy familial expectation are some reasons why we have to delay our personal metamorphosis. And to complicate things even further, the world we have grown used to is changing at unprecedented rates, leaving us vulnerable to external forces and deeply uncomfortable at how unrecognisable our world has become.
This question may appear to be the type of abstract, existential question that I mentioned before, and you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that. Not too far down the road from Descartes’ question of consciousness, we’ve all desperately tried to work out what kind of person we are and what we stand for, which is a necessary investigation into ourselves. But Alice’s question is weighted differently, focusing on a more specific element of our character formation that is not usually considered.
Literally speaking, who in the WORLD are you? I’m sure Carroll was simply exasperating as a literary device, but maybe this inquiry could be a more acute reckoning. In this dense and noisy room of commoners and charlatans, what is your role and why should it matter? This isn’t a question of originality, given that each of us by genetic definition is a unique being experiencing reality in our own subjective imaginings. Rather, it’s asking us who we are modelling ourselves on as a reference point as our landscape continues to become increasingly unrecognisable.
If there are gaps in the world that correlate with your interests and passions, why aren’t you filling them? It is all well and good to be secure in your personal identity and possess high levels of self-esteem relative to the unknown, but it is to no avail if you can’t find a place to slot in eventually. Even heretics and pioneers alike need spaces where they can practise their fundamental values. The great puzzle is therefore not simply discovering who you are, but identifying where you fit in within the wilderness.
We cannot choose the cards we are dealt, being our environment and circumstances within in, but we can choose our role models and how much we decide to embody them. Great people have come before us and bestowed upon us numerous virtues and causes to dedicate our lives towards. These great people are often linked by the disproportionate adversity they faced during their lives, some of which were subjected to the very depths of human treatment and nefarious invention. Hard-wired to survive and adapt to our ever-changing environment, we are no different to them. They are not more intrinsically valuable or supernaturally gifted with God-given abilities; they solved their own great puzzle and designed themselves a legacy based on values that usurped their own personal being.
“There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.” – Deepak Chopra
What if you’re right, and they’re wrong?