How do you know who you are?

 Authors: Daniella A and Alfred T 

We were having this nice catch up, Daniella and myself, when she took a philosophical turn: “How do you know who you are? Identity wise?”  Wow! I thought, what a question, and, then, I don’t have a clue.  I have an inclination where Daniella is coming from, I will let her tell us. 

Daniella writes 

Even though I’m a whole human, I’d like to think that I have two parts that make me who I am (& who I’m not.)  

    It’s weird really, on paper almost everything about me is documented. My age, my height, my weight (a number I’d rather not know.) etc. But nothing about who I really am.  

      My outer me has been crafted for years to get predictable responses- I’ll be liked but not enough to stand out; I’ll be accepted by authority; I’ll make my parents happy. But, it’s not me. So then why instead of writing a post (with poor grammar and punctuation) about identity; I just be myself?  

      My outer self is like a peeling scab; made for protection and calloused around the soft, vulnerable skin underneath, my inner self. My real self is…well I don’t know much about my real self since I’ve never been “real”.  

      It seems It’s a choice between happiness or acceptance.  

Alfred writes 

My perspective is that I don’t know who I am, it changes regularly.  Let me explain: I grew up near Cape Town in South Africa to first-generation German parents.  My mother-tongue is German, which I still speak and read on a fairly regular basis; the grammatik is a bit of a struggle for me when it comes to writing.  Culturally, I am a bit ‘confused’, part German, part South African.  It has been much easier for me ‘to be’ South African after the 1992 elections (referred to at the time as ‘one man, one vote’) and President Mandela. My strongest identify is now probably African, even after 20 years in the United Kingdom, where my pseudo-identity has been that of a European, i.e. an intruder since the Brexit vote.  So, where would I like to be in terms of identity?  Proudly African and that’s where I will be in a few years when I reach retirement age.  A beautiful continent and people, I need some emotional sunshine. 

Alfred’s reflection 

Daniella’s post is incredibly brave, and it made me drop a tear or two; I would like us, teachers, friends, family, colleagues, to help Daniella ‘find’ her real self. The self that is hidden, waiting for an emotional spring to bloom. 

I wrote my post before Daniella and, looking back, my post is very male, Germanic and lacking in emotion [I have not changed it].  So, I am learning from Daniella’s post while mulling  ways in which we can help Daniella and other young adults who lack confidence in their own self.  Looking back to myself at the same age, I also lacked confidence and was incredibly shy; I was fortunate to have mentors that saw the potential and slowly turned me around.  In the twilight years of my career as a formal educator, my perspective is that we should educate students, develop them as young adults to face the world out there, it is about more than teaching. 

Daniella, it may not be easy, we are going to do this! 

Daniella’s Reflection 

My post seems to be quite saddening to read. When writing, I didn’t feel much sadness. I tried to write similarly to how I self-reflect mentally. I can’t really be sad or mad at the truth of my identity (or lack thereof).  

It’s hard to explain, when a situation that isn’t considered “normal” becomes your “new normal.” Hiding your true self from the world isn’t normal for most people-but it happens.  This topic did make me feel frustrated more often when I was younger but maybe it’s a sign that I’ve become more complacent in my situation.  

I’m in a place now where this is going to change. Terrified isn’t even the best word to describe how that makes me feel. However, a small part of me wanted this to have happened earlier. A scared as I am, I feel like this is worth it.