“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,…”
Who are you? I once attended a seminar during which the participants were asked to introduce themselves to one person sitting near them whom they did not know. The caveat: we could not identify our names, our age, our occupation, our hobbies, or any circumstances of our lives. I found myself confused. Who am I but those things? Doesn’t my occupation define me? Or my hobbies? Or my family name? Or the fact that I’m the mother of three fully human and lovely young men? I turned to the person next to me and stumbled out something like, “Hi, I’m a person who loves people authentically and who attempts to live genuinely.” Although it fits, it feels too limited. But then again, so do all those other labels.
So many of us, me included, seem to search for ways of defining ourselves that have very little to do with ourselves. Take the circumstances of our birth, for example. Where were you born? “I’m a Southerner.” “I’m a Georgian.” “I’m an American.” “My ancestry is from…” In what ways do any of these labels give someone insight into the person that you are? How about your occupation? While that may tell a person how you spend a large portion of your weekday hours, does that job really define you? Personally, what does “I’m a counselor” actually tell other people about me? There are plenty of counselors who are unlike me in many ways, so lumping me into a large pot of individuals with the same occupation does very little to define the individual I am.
The same may be said about our families of origin. I love my family of origin and admire each individual for who they have chosen to become. But my definition of me cannot rest on who they are. Either admirable or disreputable, their life choices are theirs and are not necessarily related to my life choices. “My father is a…” or “my brother accomplished…” are statements about them, not about me. While I may borrow some sense of pride or honor by being related to them, it is their honor that I’m borrowing, not mine that I’ve earned, and is therefore not a definition of me at all. Just because my father graduated from such-and-such university says nothing about who I am; it says he was intelligent or diligent enough to get accepted and persistent enough to graduate. I may or may not also share those attributes on my own. Said another way, my life is not a “Part 2” or a sequel to my parents’ or anyone else’s life book. Mine is my own separate book.
You are writing your own life book, separate from each and every member of your family of origin. It matters not whether your family is composed of leaders or followers, of upstanding citizens or dishonorable people; your book is a stand-alone book. (In fact, you may find your book in a completely different section of the library from every other book in your family!)
Regardless of how similar or different your book is from the rest of your family of origin, it is your responsibility to write your own book. No one else can write it for you. Your book is filled with your values, your character traits, your hopes, and your dreams. While your family may provide wisdom or counsel in helping you make certain choices, the choices are yours. What you value, what you find interesting, and what your dreams and aspirations are, those are yours and no one can direct those or tell you what you should choose.
As an aside, it is so very sad to see adolescents and young adults being pushed to pursue some academic, athletic, or artistic endeavor because that’s what their parents did, or because that’s what their parents wanted to do but never took advantage of the opportunity. (Having to become “Part 2” of their parents’ dreams.) Some adults continue to do things they feel obligated to do by their families of origin even though they have no desire to do them. Some individuals are even encouraged to pursue marriage with someone they are not particularly interested in, just because their family has pressured them – they “should” for whatever reason.
Another example of allowing someone else to write your own book is pursuing a career you have no interest in, just to appease the family. An acquaintance of mine pursued a medical career because that was expected of him by his family, but he had longed to be a landscape architect. He was miserable in his lucrative medical career; after 10 years, he left medicine to “play in the dirt” for a significant cut in pay but a significant increase in his life satisfaction. He learned to take charge of the direction of his own storyline, his own book, and found himself much happier.
You are responsible for the choices you make; you are not responsible for the choices your family members make (or want you to make). You get to live with the choices you make, no one else gets to live your life for you. Only you can assess your strengths and weaknesses, and your interests and aversions. Whether it’s a choice of career, life partner, or what you will spend your spare time thinking about or doing, it’s your responsibility to make your choices and then live with the consequences of those choices you make. Sometimes, those you love will be unhappy with your choices, which creates uncomfortable obstacles to overcome in writing your book well.
Regardless of how others respond to your choices, you are responsible for being the best version of you that you know how to be, both for your own fulfillment and for being genuine in your relationships. If your choices cause distress in the lives of someone you love, it is your responsibility to do what you can to make it right with that other person as much as it is possible for you to do so. This is also part of your story.
You are unique. Your tendencies, strengths, talents, interests, values, relationships, experiences, and life circumstances combine to make you a one-of-a-kind individual. Your story is also unique. Your story is not Part 2 of anyone else’s story. Compose the kind of story you will find fulfilling to live in. If it would be helpful, I can provide direction, assistance, and support to help you live an authentic and fulfilling life, and together we can uncover and help you heal from any obstacles preventing you from being the best version of you that you can be.