Who are you? What is your identity?
I like to remind myself that identity has a simple meaning. It is the story about ourselves that we tell others. Thus, our identity is fluid. It depends upon the context, the listener, and the nature of our interactions.
Our identity stories emerge from different kinds of interactions throughout our lifetimes. Yet we sometimes try to reduce that lifetime of experiences to simplistic statements about who we are. For instance, it took me a while to learn that what I do and who I am are different. From the outside, things may seem clear-cut, but it takes an incredible amount of self-awareness to imbibe this in real life.
Many a self-help book, sage, life coach, mother, and father will tell us that we would be foolish to define ourselves by our achievements, just like we should never limit ourselves by our failures. What we do for a living is rarely a close reflection of who we are and what we stand for. Yet if we look at how we tell stories about our future selves, we see the limitations we accept as everyday discourse. Remember this question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" For most of us, the answer was a noun: Accountant. Engineer. Programmer. Firefighter. Teacher. Doctor. Stylist. Rarely, if ever, did anyone of us answer the question with an adjective: Beautiful. Kind. Caring. Sexy. Loving. Honourable. Interesting.
For a while, I wondered if questions like this needed reframing. Perhaps instead of “what do I want to be,” I needed to ask, “who do I want to be” or "how do I want to be." I wanted to be my authentic self, and my authentic self wanted to try everything. At least once. Just because. Even if trying meant failing, I wanted to say I did it. I wanted to say that I had “been there" and "done that.” Because these are the things that make life enjoyable.
Who I am
My name is Patlee Creary. I have a Doctoral degree, I retired from the military at the rank of Captain more than a decade before I earned that degree, and now I, along with my husband, parent two of the most reasonable children one could ever hope for. Along the way, I picked up a few nouns: Teacher, Mother, Officer, and so forth. I do or have done those things, but I hardly feel that that is who I am.
I am a free spirit, an adventurer, a trier, a planner, a doer, a traveller, a critic, a foodie, a writer, an observer, a strategist, a good neighbour, and an honourable citizen; the list goes on. I know what I have accomplished, and I can separate that from my identity, the story I tell others about who I am. It took a lot of learning (and suffering) to come to this realization.
Becoming the MIWW
Some time ago, I learned there is a difference between having a career and an interesting life. By interesting, I mean something worthy of one’s curiosity and ongoing attention. Having an interesting life is about having experiences that make a life worthy of illustration through storytelling and story-listening. Interest makes us want to be a part of what comes next.
But pay close attention here, for a dilemma arises, and this is where identity – the story we tell others about ourselves – becomes extremely important. A life lived intentionally is a life of nurturing one’s own identity. It is a life where you become the story that you want to follow or read with wide eyes and a feeling of feat, even though that story is a mix of beauty, darkness, care, villainy, love, honour, shame, desperation, loss, and happiness.
I am learning that what I do and see in my life matters most when it comes to being interested in myself. My life should arouse my curiosity and attention, not bore me to death or fill me with regret about time lost to pleasing others or feigning interest. To fulfil my identity and have a story about myself that I want to tell others in conversations, I must resolve to be interesting and to do so for myself, never for anyone else. So I became the Most Interesting Woman in the World (MIWW).
I cannot prove with certainty that I am the most interesting woman in the world; frankly, I have no desire to do so. You and I can agree that ‘interesting’ is a subjective term. What commands my curiosity and attention: travel, home renovations, writing, food, stories, and philosophy, may not register for you. Even if we agree on the food category, we will likely disagree on the degree of interest when comparing dishes. And what is interesting for you: astrology, gene manipulation, shopping, and cybernetics, won't work for me. This is how it should be. Our interests are particular because our identities are distinct.
Now it's your turn.
Life gives us many opportunities to take stock of our stories and tell them in a way that helps us construct new identities. When we embrace those opportunities, we end up with versions of ourselves that are no longer defined by what we do or represent in other people’s stories. Instead, we become the identities that speak volumes about who we are and what we give and take from our interactions with others. In this way, no single woman can hold the title of being the most interesting.
To be the MIWW is an aspiration. She is a presence that absorbs the people she meets, the places she goes, and the experiences she gathers. Becoming the MIWW is my ambition, and it begins with me being my authentic self - the version of myself that I find joy and peace within. The MIWW is why I keep trying new things, travelling to new places, living for new days, and learning from new people.
My name is Patlee Creary. I am the most interesting woman in the world. Now it's your turn. Who are you? What is your identity?
Oh Patlee – yes you are MIWW and you inspire me to play with that idea as well! Thank you for this inspiring piece.