My Evolving Sense of Self
As a child I had a strong sense of self. I felt that I knew my personality and interests well. I had the unwavering knowledge that I was reserved and shy. I looked at how much other people interacted and sought interaction and thought, “Oh, that’s different. I can’t relate to that”. I knew I was thoughtful. I noticed that other kids tended to run towards and engage with new activities quickly, while I first observed and deliberated before acting. I knew I liked sports. In school, I liked all the sports. I knew I liked math. Out of all the subjects, math made the most sense and I enjoyed being a human calculator. I plugged and chugged with enthusiasm and zest — and still do. I knew I liked drawing. I don’t remember anyone telling me to draw. I think I started on my own. I knew I liked books. In some books I took great pleasure reading.
At this point in life I didn’t “try” in anything, everything I did, I did naturally. If I like something, I kept doing it. There was no comparing my work to other or thinking if this activity will go anywhere. Unintentionally, this allowed me to see which talents flourished and which floundered. I never questioned who I was, I simply was.
I recall a small moment. Quick, fleeting, yet deeply unsettling. It was in elementary school and we were writing and illustrating our own books. The top three books from each class would move on to the school-wide competition. Because I liked reading and drawing, I expected to be chosen to move onto the school-wide competition. I remember my book not being picked and the girl who was sitting next to me had her’s picked. It was one of the few moments in childhood where I remember wanting something, not getting it, and having no idea why. Because of those 2 out of 3 years where my books weren’t chosen and because I never received any significant award from that writing competition, I “discovered” that I wasn’t a good writer and/or illustrator. That idea has stayed with me since. In this way I discovered “who I was” by how well I performed in each activity relative to my peers.
Through middle school, high school, and undergrad I discovered who I was through comparison.
Once I completed undergrad and entered the working world, two major things left my life: competitive tennis and school. I was no longer both a “tennis player” and “student”. By (job) title you would’ve called me a “Process Engineer/Estimator”, or “Engineer” in general. Because I didn’t like my job — and none of my fellow Process Engineers/Estimators seemed to like it either — to say that that was who I was felt like a lie. It would have been like telling someone I was a different race. Consequently, I was left without any noun to tell people who I was. It was deeply unsettling and embarrassing to be a person without a title to generally describe themself. Truly, I felt like “nobody”.
So, at 23 years old, I had lost any idea of who I was.