Who am I?
Who am I? It’s not a simple question to answer.
I started trying to answer it though because, after a long slow 2 year journey into burning out, I’m a little tired of being tired.
The process of burning out has been fuelled largely by my inability to:
- Know my personal limits.
- Avoid things which might push me across those limits.
- Identify long term strategic goals.
I haven’t paid attention to how much work is too much work, I’ve just had the mindset of “what needs to be done needs to be done”, not matter how I do it. In reality I, like all machines, deterioirate over time. The process of deterioration is sped up when we run at levels above our limits. It’s a shame we don’t come with sensors that tell us what those limits are and how far we are from crossing them (Well, actually I think we do, it’s just I’ve learned to ignore distrust them).
I haven’t said “no” enough. I’ve just allowed requests for my time and attention to roll over me, pushing my self harder and harder to achieve the things that have been set for me. In the process I’ve learned some useful lessons, my favourite being that some fires can simply be left to burn. Most of the time though I’ve simply been pushing my self above and beyond my limits for far longer than required.
I’ve no long term goals. No dreams. No aspirations. I couldn’t honestly tell you where I’m going and the coherent story I might tell is simply a backward rationalisation of what serendipity has handed me. Am I doing something I want to do? Is what I’m doing aligned with me? I haven’t known. My wants and desires have seemed to shift and change in tandem with my context. At the end of something I can’t tell if I’m further away from or closer to where I want to be.
My hypothesis is that knowing who I am will help me:
- Know my personal limits.
- Errect and protect boundaries that prevent me crossing those boundaries.
- Make subjectively better decisions.
- Have long term, strategic goals.
All in the name of protecting myself from burnout in the future.
It’s still a hard question to answer and I’ve come to some realizations on my journey to answering it.
First, “who am i?” is not a question you need to answer once. It’s a question that has many answers that depend on where you are, who you’re with, how old you are, etc. It shifts and moves, ever changing. It’s more akin to the question “what time is it?” than something more fixed.
Answering “who am i?” by teasing out my values every day is like deriving the time from the position of the planets everytime you want to know what time it is. Not only would it take a long time to figure out but you’re immediately wrong, the time has already changed. Would it not be simpler to learn to read a clock?
Similarly I now believe that answering the question “who am i?” is more about reading myself. We have names for that; instinct, intuition etc. I think that I don’t need to answer the question “who am i?”, instead I need to learn to read the “who am i?” measuring instrument. Myself. Instead of rationalizing every decision, I need to read and trust myself.
That is not the end of answering the question though as, just like time, there are aspects of me that change more frequently than others. Parts of me that stay the same for longer periods of time or through big changes in context. I’m fairly sure I can know these intuatively at the point I’m making any decision but that is a very reactive way to live life.
Instead I would like to surface those harder to change aspects of me. Learn how to make them explicit and use them to craft longer term goals. I’m going to call those slowly changing aspects my values for now but I’m not sure that adequately describes them. I want to take those values and, with my current context, identify ways in which I can live those values. Goals that will help me see those values brought to life.
I hope that in knowing the answer to “who am i?” at any given time will let me; know my personal limits around which I can errect boundaries (a separate skill to learn it would seem), know which of a given set of decisions feels the most right and trust myself enough to make that decision, understand the values that change the least in me and identify possible futures that allow me to live those values.