The question this generation is struggling (and mostly failing) to answer is “Who am I?” – the question of identity. This is because a strong identity is built on only two aspects of a person’s life: their work (the things they accomplish) and their relationships (the people they love and care for). Since most “work” taken up by people these days is useless. and their relationships are weak and shallow, they desperately seek for other things to define them: their favorite music, favorite writers, job title (from doing useless work), clothes, hair, school, social network, etc.
Last week, [redacted] was losing her mind over the stress of planning an org event. Is it an accomplishment to pull off a successful event? Sure. Is it one significant enough to build your identity on? Not unless “event planner” is one of your lifelong goals. That’s perfectly valid. What’s insane is when you want to be “event planner,” and “yoga guru,” and “person who gets the most drunk at every party,” and “dean’s lister.” If you try to be all of those, you’re going to be none of those (except maybe the drunk person).
If pulling off a successful event isn’t a significant enough accomplishment to base your identity upon, then not being able to pull it off shouldn’t be a significant enough failure to undermine your self-perception. If it matters to you that much, then devote your time and effort to it. If you want a reputation as a successful event planner, then actually, you know, plan the event; allot time and delegate tasks. Don’t leave it all to chance then run around at the last minute screaming at people. (Also, don’t commit to planning an event without the assurance that you’ll have all the resources you need. If it’s miraculously successful no one will know or care what you went through to make it happen, and if it’s a failure you’ll look like an incompetent fool).
After her birthday party, which we had thrown at unspeakably tremendous expense, [redacted] called in tears. She had overheard her friends telling each other that another blockmate’s party was way more fun because they had a lot more alcohol. These are her friends – the people she sees every day, tells everything to, spends all her time with. In other words, significant factors of her identity.
Look at their relationships: their pleasure in each other’s company is such that they need to be intoxicated out of their minds to find each other funny / sexy / exciting / not boring as hell. And she trusts them so little that a comment like that could deeply hurt her instead of just annoying her a bit or whatever.
One of the barriers to developing a strong identity is the unwillingness to play roles. This is what people usually mean when they say, “I won’t change who I am,” in response to a circumstance that requires them to do things that they normally wouldn’t do (for example, a guy who refuses to shave his beard to apply for jobs). They are saying, “I refuse to play a different role from what I am comfortable with playing.”
What’s wrong with this viewpoint of identity is that the human character is not made up of one aspect – one “face” – but is a complex conglomeration of many different aspects, each suited for playing a different role. Playing a role does NOT mean you’re “not being yourself”; you are displaying an aspect of yourself – like turning a particular facet of a gem towards the light – that is appropriate for the situation.
If a military sergeant yells her recruits out of their bunks at 5AM, and yells at them all day in field exercises, then goes home and plays pretty pretty princess with her daughter, was she necessarily not being herself at one point or another? What’s the “real” her – the one who forces a recruit to do 50 pushups for an unmade med, or the one who sings “Let It Go” in a fluffy pink tutu?
Answer: They’re both her, because neither of those aspects are incongruous with the other. Like different facets of a single gem, she carries both these attitudes as different aspects of a person who is essentially a responsible one. She’s being responsible for the performance of her recruits. She’s being responsible for the happiness of her daughter. She’s not always going to be a sergeant, and she’s not always going to be the mother of a toddler, but this responsibility for others is who she is, and it will manifest itself in whatever form it needs to take.
(some clarifications to follow, I think)