How to Define Yourself

My writing mentor (even though we’ve never met or talked), Augusten Burroughs, writes some pretty wonderful advice about love and life and everything in-between. In his book, “This is How,” he gave his readers some insightful advice: Who you are is made up of multiple things, but you do not have to define yourself with any of them. In essence, labels are straight-up bullshit. You label yourself.

This is not a quote. In fact, I cannot find an actual quote of what specifically this book taught me (I highly recommend it, obviously). Anyway, I want to hash out that idea here.

Assume all quotations in this piece are by Augusten Burroughs.

Here are a few things that define me, regardless of what I tell people, based on the true meaning of what a label is supposed to mean:

  • hater of styrofoam
  • bird rescuer
  • natural health advocate
  • bisexual
  • hiker
  • demisexual
  • skier
  • paleo
  • writer
  • friend of prison inmate
  • survivor of shitty things
  • outgoing
  • defiant
  • loving, but confused about the right way to love
  • honest
  • female
  • confused
  • takes bad news badly
  • blonde
  • raised Catholic
  • intelligent
  • sarcastic
  • messy
  • artist

Now, even in this very specific definition of myself that I’ve created, I’ve still left out possible thousands of labels and I’ve defined myself as a survivor of “shitty things.” I did not need to define that and I haven’t. I tend not to define that to save others from being sad and judgmental…or maybe to save myself from experiencing those types of reactions. I digress. This is what I like to define myself as:

  • natural health advocate
  • paleo
  • survivor of shitty things
  • honest
  • writer
  • artist
  • bird rescuer
  • skier
  • hater of styrofoam

and in essence, that is who I am. I am who I choose to define myself as, not how others define me. And yet, similarly, I can embody these other things I’m defined as without telling the whole world.

Start focusing on letting go of the concern you have with how you are–or are not–perceived by others. You can practice by not giving a shit.

Like, I don’t have to be the “survivor of shitty things,” or, alternatively, I can choose to define myself and spread awareness about certain shitty things and not others. For example, if you are a victim of rape, you do not need to be a rape prevention/awareness advocate. You can move on and choose to leave this in the past.

Also important:

Many people believe that if something really bad happens to them, they have paid their dues and nothing else really bad can happen again. But on the day you attend your mother’s funeral or declare personal bankruptcy, there’s no law in the universe that prevents you from also getting a speeding ticket and your first grey hair.

Life totally sucks, most of the time (at least in my case, Ms. Survivor of Shitty Things). I used to think that after I moved out of my parents’ house and cut most of my family out of my life, that I would be free and that the world would be my oyster. Nothing could ever be worse than my childhood. Oh, but it did get worse… and as it turns out, I wasn’t safe from it and tacked on a few other Shitty Things to my survivor belt.

The truth is that life itself is brutally, obscenely unfair. Consider all those other millions of sperm cells that were just as good as the one that resulted in you, and where are they now? Dead, nowhere.

There’s no guarantee that things will get better, either. People tend to say that “everything will be okay” or that everything always works out in the end. You know what I say to those people? Good for you. That’s not true. You’re just saying that to try to make me feel better, and I know that it’s not true, so those words make me feel worse. If everything always works out for you, that’s great, but buddy, that’s not the case for most everyone else.

Those things that ought to kill us do not. This should be taken as encouragement to continue.

Surviving a near-death experience really sucks and surviving Shitty Things that could have resulted in a near-death experience really sucks too, but if we’re still here, we need to keep pushing on. I still have bad things happen to me all the time and I can’t keep referring the Universe back to the past, like, See? You already put me through this, remember? I don’t deserve what you’re doing to me now. Nah, you’re there in the thick of it and the world will push you again and again.

But you know what the cool part about that is? You’re going to grow, you’re going to be stronger, and you don’t have to look back on the past with anger. You don’t have to look at your friend’s brother with envy – the guy who had a perfect job with benefits after college, made his way to the top within three years, and is married to his high school sweetheart with two perfectly healthy kids. You’re far more interesting and stronger than that person and you, my friend, are truly living.

One thought on “How to Define Yourself

  1. Pingback: “Do You Consider Yourself a ‘Happy Person?’” | The Barefoot Aya

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