There's a scene in the movie Anger Management of an interaction between Adam Sandler's and Jack Nicholson's characters. Nicholson, in the role of a therapist, asks Sandler (the patient) to share a bit about himself. Sandler's character shares his name, what he does, his hobbies and his interests. With each answer, Nicholson interjects, "I want to know who you are." Sandler proceeds to get increasingly frustrated, unable to give an acceptable answer.
Have you ever had to describe yourself to someone else before? What would your answer be? If you were to answer that question over the phone, to someone who never met your before, what would you say? How would you present yourself?
The truth is, we can't avoid using external descriptors, or labels, like what we do for work, or what our hobbies are, because these are how people relate to us. They use our name, they identify us by what we look like on the outside, or by what we do, or whatever image we portray outwards. Yet, sometimes if we don't think enough about the question of "who am I?", those external labels can begin to shape us, rather than the other way around. The result is similar to that scene from Anger Management, where like Adam Sandler's character, its difficult to describe ourselves apart from those labels.
This is why its so important to ask that question, "who am I?", and to seriously reflect on the answer. It pushes us inside of ourselves, to consider one's self on the level of beliefs, values, gifts and purpose. To ask, "who am I, really?" We have to go deeper than the labels, so that we define and are in control of what we portray out into the world.
See, what happens when you have a deep sense of your self, your identity and your purpose is that you portray that out. Those people in your life who have that "it" factor, that groundedness or that energy, that makes you want what they've got - that's an internal choice before anything else. That's a deep sense of meaning and purpose, followed by the choice to live that out in the world. What happens when you know yourself on a deeper level, is that you yourself shape what you put out into the world, what you wear so-to-speak on your exterior. When you know what you believe, you live what you believe. And that has a real effect on the lives of others.
That might sound like hype, but it's truth. Look at anyone in history, in the world now, or even in your community, who has made or is making a positive difference, and you can see in them a concrete sense of self and of purpose. One of my favourite examples is St Teresa of Calcutta. Besides being inspirational, Mother Teresa is most commonly described as being tiny in stature. Yet, she was a powerhouse. She not only created change within the culture she was living in, she created global influence, attracting the attention of the whole world through what she was doing. I read her biography when I was 18, and what struck me was that she even went through times where she said she couldn't "hear" or experience God. Yet, she knew who she was, what she valued, and what her faith and belief was. This conviction of who she was and what she stood for allowed her to create massive change in countless lives throughout the world.
We need to spend that time figuring out who we are, so that we can get to the stage where we don't have to figure out who we are. When you have that self-knowledge, that acceptance of your purpose and mission on this earth, you get to spend more time figuring out how you're going to live that out in the world, what you need to act out, what labels you need to adopt. Ultimately, if you spend time figuring out who you are, then you enable yourself to focus on others. It's the great paradox of love: love others as you love yourself (Mt 22:39).
When we talk about discerning or figuring out where you are called to and what you are called to do, it's not just thinking about yourself. At least that's not the end point. "Self-discovery", as its often called today, is just a means, a process we go through, so we can commit more of our time and energy to others. If you establish a sense of yourself, if you're able to name it in a one-line sentence of why God has put you on this earth, then career choices or lifestyle choices will follow. Your life becomes empowered to empower other lives.
And this is the meaning, the very heart of God's call. We don't talk about calling, or meaning, or purpose just to explain away why we're here. It's a reality of using our lives in the here and now. Want to know your purpose? Then spend sometime asking that question "who am I?" - and don't stop with the question. Share whatever answers you arrive at through the way that you live. And it's there that faith becomes reality, where we're able to shape a better world.