“Who Are You?”, composed by Pete Townsend, is the title track on The Who’s 1978 album, Who Are You. Black Sabbath did a song with the same title in 1973, which was written by Ozzy Osbourne, for their fifth album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but it is not even close to being the same song – check it out.
Many of us spend a lifetime trying to figure out the answer to that question. Some wander about “in search of themselves.” Some just can’t seem to like the person that they see in the mirror and continually try to be someone or something else. Some turn to alcohol or drugs, which just add to the fog of not knowing who are you?
Many men see themselves primarily within the context of their jobs or careers. They know where they fit within an organization. They have a boss and co-workers and many have clearly defined roles, which they get comfortable fulfilling. Those men often have serious problems coping with life if they are suddenly removed from the comfort of that setting, through a layoff or a retirement. Military veterans especially have that issue when they get out of the service. In the service you always know who you are what is expected of you. You have an infrastructure all around you and cohorts sharing your experiences. Leaving that structure is particularly hard on those who have served their country. They knew who they were and they don’t know who they are now. Sure they have roles at home, with family and friends; but it was at work or in the service where they could identify and really answer the question, who are you?
Many women seem to have a more balanced view of who they are and what roles they play. IF asked, “Who are you?” they might just as quickly
answer that they are a mother and a wife as they would identify what they do at work. They might express their identity in terms of friendships and roles within their day-to-day lives that have little to do with work. More and more, of course are in the workplace and achieving great success, but fewer than men seem to be as dependent upon their place within their work organization for their sense of identity; to help them answer the question, who are you?
I’m not sure when we start focusing enough attention upon our identities to start asking ourselves who we are. I suspect it’s sometime around Middle School age, when we starting encountering a more structured environment in school and within the social structures that fall out of that environment. We are in this group or that group. We are an athlete or a geek or maybe a Goth. We may run with the “in crowd’ or be called a loner. Perhaps we start worrying about who we are at the same time that others start trying to classify us and either welcome us or exclude us from various groups. Certainly we become more aware of the exclusions and perhaps more concerned about “fitting in” somewhere, with some group. It is through membership to those groups that we begin to formulate the answer to the question, who are you?
There’s an interesting saying from Mitch Albom, author of the book – The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto – “Everyone joins a band in this life. Only some of them play music.”
Mitch is pointing out that all of us join various organizations, either formal groups or casual bands of people. Our membership in those groups or band serves to add to our sense of identity. Albom is also saying that the bands are made up on many people with different roles, only some of whom actually play the music. Many of the members of th4e band are called “roadies”. These are the people who travel with the bands and do all of the behind-the-scenes set up and teardown work that is needed to put on the show. Most of us are probably roadies in the groups that we belong to and not the ones who go on stage and actually perform. Being roadies in the bands that we belong to adds to the character that is the answer to the question – Who are you?
For most, the biggest influence on who we are comes from our significant family relationships – child, spouse, parent, caregiver. Those roles change over time and there is again a great difference between the influence and sense of identity in our lives based upon the sex of the
person. There are few (but it is not unheard of) instances in the animal world (including mankind) where the male is the caregiver to the young. The roles of wife, mother and caregiver strongly impact the sense of identity for most women; while most men focus more on achieving identity from their role as “breadwinner” – the great hunter for the family. With that mantle comes the requirement to be more stoic; more focused upon success in business and less on empathy at home. Caregiving takes a back seat to providing the means to survive and prosper. Standing off and watching from afar all too often takes the place of being involved and helping at home. The home becomes the man’s “castle” whereas for the woman it might be viewed as her “nest”. It’s not the best answer, but for many it is the only answer that they can see to the question, who are you?
Eventually, we all get old enough and perhaps wise enough to finally get comfortable with a self-image that is a composite of all of the roles that we play. For many men that time comes after retirement and getting over the shock of losing that portion of the identity that we thought we had. Many look back in regret at all of the missed opportunities to play bigger roles in the lives of their children or perhaps to have done a better job as a husband. Some wives may look back at the importance of the role of mother and regret that it overpowered the role of wife. Most let go of that past and embrace the new reality of making the best of the time that remains to take on the identities of grandparents, loving spouses and caregivers. You have another chance to provide a new answer to the question. It is perhaps that time that you also conclude that who you are is less about how other people want to classify you and more about being comfortable in your own skin and in roles of your own choosing. It turns out that you finally know the answer to the question, who are you?
Whenever you get to that stage in your life and figure out who you are, make the best of it and try to be the best person that you can be for and with those around you. Be someone who cares and is cared about. Be someone who loves and is loved in return. Be confident in yourself and your place in life because you are living a meaningful life, helping others, sharing with others, loving others. Who are you? It’s not a question with an answer; it’s really about where you are on the journey that you are taking through life. Love yourself and be someone that others enjoy knowing and you won’t worry about the answer to that question anymore. Have a great week ahead. You know who you are.