“‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation.
Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I – I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’
‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’
‘I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar…”
I often feel as flustered as Alice when I’m asked to define myself. For some reason, in our culture, it is customary to discuss what we do (career wise) as a descriptor of who we are. For example, if a stranger were to ask an acquaintance of mine, “Who is that?”, most likely my acquaintance would say, “Oh, she’s a teacher at….”.
I don’t like to think of myself as my paycheck.
While I understand this puts me in context for others, it’s puts me in a box too nice and neat. When the caterpillar repeatedly berates Alice with the same question “WHO ARE YOU?”, I can understand her difficulty at answering.
Let’s break down the question to see if it helps illuminate how to answer it.
WHO – this begs a question. Not ‘why?’ ‘how?’ or ‘what?’ you are, but ‘who?”. This three-letter word singles you out from the crowd, like a giant pointed finger. It’s the face to a name.
ARE – a form of the verb ‘to be’. Not has been, or be-coming. There is no past or future reference, but who you are right now.
YOU – it’s important to understand that what’s defining you is YOU. Not the piece of paper from university (though it does have your name on it). Not even family members or friends in your circle (though they may know you well, and hopefully they do).
I’m thirty-four and still defining who I am. And as much as I believe in the “I’m-a-work-in-progress” idea, in a way I think it’s shameful that I’m a grownup and don’t have myself figured out yet. Only a little bit.
And yet, I can’t feel that embarrassed of my identity crisis. When asked the question “Who are you?”, Alice explains that she has “changed several times” since the morning? Isn’t that true for all of us? Each day, a renewal – for us, the world and how we see it? I’m not the same person I was yesterday because yesterday’s experiences had an effect on me.
Life is in constant flux. We are in constant flux. Maybe the question is pointless when we know darn well we won’t be the same person the next day.
I suppose I didn’t assist any of us in answering that question.
Alice thought she had to answer the question, and any answer she provided wasn’t satisfying to herself, or the Caterpillar.
Maybe, that’s the point.
by Teri Hartman
Who are you? Write it down. Read it. Share it with the world. Then start over tomorrow.