Forge Meaning And Build Identity

I received a compliment recently and it made me feel really good. It was a compliment that resonated deep inside me and touched the core of who I am. I don’t share my personal stuff, the deep things that have shaped me into the person I am today. I keep them private maybe because they hurt too much or I’ve worked so hard at trying to forget or perhaps a part of me is afraid at ruining the illusion that all has been perfect. Maybe one day I will share what that is so that I can help others but at the present moment it isn’t something that I can do right now. But what I can share is how the worst moments in lives can shape us into who we are.

I heard from a really good friend whom I had not spoken to for a significant amount of time. He was experiencing some hurdles in his life and although he seemed the same I could tell he was in need of a friend. His star wasn’t shinning as bright as it once did. He was growing dim. We exchanged light-hearted chat nothing too deep or specific but I could tell he was hurting. I’d offer an ear to listen and every now and then I’d give some words of encouragement. I talked about what I learned along the way when times were difficult for me. I wanted him to look at himself to see the person that he was that he forgot about or lost along the way.

He told me that my outlook on life was inspiring for him. I can’t remember his exact question but I think he asked how I got this way or how I had so much energy. Despite giving him an answer that was good and true his question turned the mirror back on me and I thought about it for a long time.

The worst moments in our lives make us who we are. The meaning isn’t out there as some great truth to be found. We forge meaning, we do not find it. We survive through a mix of avoidance and endurance. Avoidance and endurance can be the entryway to forging meaning. After we forge meaning we need to incorporate that meaning into a new identity. You need to take the traumas and make them into who you’ve come to be and you need to fold the worst events in your life into a narrative of triumph convincing a better self in response to things that hurt.

Some of our struggles are things we’re born with and some are things that happen to us. Forging meaning is about changing yourself. Building identity is about changing the world. It would have been easier if I had not experienced what I did but I would not be me and now I like being myself better.

A Buddhist scholar once explained that Westerners mistakenly think that nirvana is what arrives when all your woe is behind you and have only bliss to look forward to but he said that would not be nirvana because your bliss in the present would always be shadowed by the joy from the past. Nirvana is what you arrive at when you have only bliss to look forward to and find in what looked like sorrows the seedlings of your joy.


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