Posted Mandy Murphy on 3/16/2015 |Featured Columns & Series
“Are you a runner?” I get asked this question often and I find it interesting that I still—at age 42 with 20 years of running behind me—cannot answer it directly. The feeling I get when I run feeds my soul. I love that moment of connectedness when I my body is easily navigating the trails and I feel light. I get grumpy if I miss too many days in a row. But am I a runner?
It recently occurred to me that I have been asking myself this same question for many years—with a long list of identifiers in the place of “runner.” Am I a vegetarian? Am I a Christian? Am I a Mom? Am I this? Am I that? In fact, I have been asking Who am I? for a long time. I think that there is a universal desire to understand who we are on some primitive level, and it joins the ranks of several other big life questions such as what is my purpose? and what is the meaning of life? Maybe these questions are not supposed to have answers or to be fully understood.
Why is it that I feel driven to “know” myself in terms of identifiers and labels? Why do we have a tendency to “know” others through the identifiers or labels that we place on them? Sure, these identifiers serve many purposes. They create order for us; “I know her from yoga class.” They foster connection between people: “Oh, you are Johnny’s dad. My daughter is in his class. What did he think of the field trip last week?” They also provide comfort by giving us a sense of familiarity and fit. If we can describe someone using a long list of appropriate adjectives, we must know them. The list of ways we describe ourselves to others is a comfortable framework for how we operate in the world. It affects how we spend our time, how we spend our money and the daily choices we make. But there is more.
Sometimes this framework can become a mask for who we really are. Or often, we know that we need to change something but it is so comfortable staying behind that mask of familiar identifiers that we do not want it to change. But if we get too caught up on living out this framework of self, it can become more like a trap.
These labels can impact authentic living in many different ways. We can get comfortable and ultimately stuck in the way we view ourselves, thereby missing opportunities for growth in areas that may draw us closer to who we really are. Individuals are growing and changing all of the time. If we constantly hold onto that image we have of ourselves and don’t allow it to evolve, we may feel disconnected or out of integrity with ourselves.
A while back while training for a longer race, I realized this directly. My “goal” with this run was only feeding the image I had of myself. I had somehow convinced myself that it was what I needed to do. Yet, in honesty, I think it was more to fuel the image I was holding onto of myself as “a runner” than for healthy and more meaningful reasons.
This is where our identifiers cripple us. If the way we think of ourselves becomes disconnected from who we really are, then we are not living authentically and do not feel fulfilled. We are living out our image and not our real self. Had I paused long enough to honestly think about why I wanted to do that race, I may have tuned into the lack of purposeful decision making. I probably would have recognized that this was not the appropriate goal for that point in my life.
No, I am not a runner. I am me, and running is a very meaningful and healthy part of my life. It is through the solo runs surrounded by the realness of the world that I stay in touch with myself.
This awareness was the start of a personal journey to live a life of purpose and authenticity. Not just in how I know myself, but also in how I know others. I don’t want to just know that someone does yoga, is the mother of Sam, is a member of a certain organization, works for Company XYZ and loves sushi. I want to know her for her. I want to know what makes her tick, what brings brilliant joy to her life, what makes her laugh and what makes her cry. This level of connection with someone else helps me get beyond the labels and connect with the real self in both of us.
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