Take a quick minute, before you start reading this blog post, to think of a few words you would use to describe yourself. Don’t worry, I won’t make you share these words in the comments section or anything, so be as honest as possible.
One combination might be: competent and put-together.
Another might be: scattered and confused.
Another might be: happy and the life-of-the-party
Another could be: a failure at everything I do.
Again, be as honest as possible. How would you really describe yourself? Once you have the few words in your head, ask yourself:
Where do those words come from?
In other words, how do I know these things about myself? Even further, how have they come into being? If I’m thoughtful and caring, how I have become that way? If I’m unhealthy and destructive… why?
Have you ever wondered about that—about where our sense of identity comes from? Obviously, this is a question that has been explored by philosophers for centuries. So I certainly can’t answer it (or really even skim it) in a short blog post.
But I have been considering lately about how much of our identity comes from outside of us—from what people say about us, or to us, or even just around us. I couldn’t help but share this brief thought.
The words others speak in our presence are not just benign.
They become something important.
They become a part of us.
Chances are, when you think carefully about the words you use to describe yourself, you’ll find you did not invent these words. They were spoken to you and over you and become a part of your being.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t traditionally thought about identity this way.
I have thought a great deal about how my thoughts and actions create my identity, about how my past experiences have shaped who I have become. I’ve tried to organize and order new experiences (school, travel, career, etc) as a way to help a positive identity continue to grow.
But I haven’t really spent much time thinking about how the people in my immediate circle actually begins to shape how I see myself.
The words they say about me…
The words they say to me…
The words they utter about the world, and about others…
All of these words are continually shaping and shifting how I perceive the world, and how I perceive my place in it. This helps to create my identity.
And for this reason, the friends I choose couldn’t be more important.
If I’m friends with people who gossip about others, who focus on my weaknesses, and who think the world is out to get them—no wonder I feel fearful and incompetent. If I’m friends with people who affirm me often, who speak highly of others, and believe anything is possible, no wonder I believe the same things, too.
Our friends are busy shaping our souls and the world around us. That’s a big deal.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think we can be kind to everyone.
We can be gracious with everyone. We can reach out, even to those who are gossiping and negative, and be the catalyst for change in our communities. But at some point you have to decide that those you let in close, those you share your secrets with, those you invite into your inner circle, will be safe people.
People who speak good things into existence.
There is an incredible danger in choosing the wrong friends.
The stakes are too high. The cost is too steep. It may be the difference between feeling like a failure, and knowing you have what it takes. It may mean the difference between becoming a failure and becoming a success. It may be the difference between becoming the best or worst version of yourself.
You become like the people you hang around. You become who they say you are.
So choose carefully. Speak carefully.
Who you become may depend on it.