Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Who Am I?

My masters' degree dissertation required me to do a lot of reading on workplace diversity, and then on culture, cross-cultural management, sociology, psychology and other related areas. I'll be the first to say that the final product wasn't the most sound piece of research, but what I'll eternally be grateful for is the knowledge I gained in the process.

In a word, it was mind-broadening. Not only in terms of a better understanding of why people differed culturally, but most importantly, in terms of a better understanding of myself.

Much of the material prompted me to introspect, to analyse the way I perceived and interpreted the world. It forced me to confront my prejudices, to realise that though I believed in equality, I too had racist, sexist and all other discriminatory -istic tendencies in me. But perhaps the most valuable insight was a clearer understanding of my identity -- who I am.

I didn't just randomly decide to do a post on identity; it was this thought-provoking piece by Renu that set off the introspection again. Although her post largely centers on women retaining their maiden names post marriage as part of their identity, it got me thinking about the whole issue of identity itself.
What makes up a person's identity? We each get some parts of our identity simply by being born wherever we were - we're instantly a part of a family, a society, a nation. But I think for the most part, our identity is how we choose to define ourselves, what we choose to make of ourselves.

Most people go through life without a clear understanding of their identities; they just go with the flow because that's just how things are, or feel compelled to be whatever the current media trend tells them they should be because they want to fit in. I think its just a handful of people who're lucky to instinctively know who they are. Most of us have to grapple with the issue for a long time till we arrive at that understanding.

For me, it was this particular exercise that really helped me clarify my identity. While some things were immediately obvious, I still took a few days to sort through it, but the end result was a renewed self-confidence and a sense of being at peace with myself, and that's why I wanted to share it here ....... maybe it'd be just as useful to you. I don't remember now exactly where I read it or whose concept it is (I think it was put forth by an American college professor to his students, but I'm not sure).

Basically, you divide a circle into segments representing the most vital components of your identity; the size you give each segment depends on its importance to you. (In case you wondered, no, this drawing is not a representation of my identity :), its just an illustrative example.) The dimensions here are what most people tend to include; you may want to add / subtract, again based on what you consider important.

And that, really, is one of the key conclusions of this exercise: to realise what is important to you. For many women today, the main identity clash seems to be between that of family and career. I know that prioritising one over the other can be incredibly difficult; indeed for anyone, prioritising various aspects of your identity, deciding which is more important than the others is not easy.

But its not as if you need to rank them or anything, because different situations in life call for different facets of your identity to come to the fore. In some circumstances, you'll have to put work first, sometimes you may need to put your child's need before that of your spouse, if you're watching a sports event you'll cheer or boo as a citizen of whatever country, if you read about atrocities committed anywhere you feel for the victims simply because you're human too.

So the point of the exercise is purely to determine the aspects of your identity that matter to you. What is it that fulfills you? What brings you satisfaction? What is it that really makes you happy? Because isn't that ultimately the point of life, to improve as a person and to find happiness? And how better to get there than by starting out with a clear understanding of who you are.


For the curious: who am I??? I have and always will be a faith-and-family-first kind of person, happy and proud to be an Indian woman. I try my best to live up to 'Shalom' - its the Hebrew word for 'peace' from which my real name is derived. I tend towards artistic pursuits, so getting better at writing, cooking, painting, photography matters a lot. I've never been the career-driven type, though getting a good education was important, and I'm currently gearing up to face the biggest challenge of my life, and what will become the most important part of my identity for a long, long time - being a good mom!


  1. Ur who am I matched mine but differed only in the sense tht I wished tht I was occupied for some part of the day with some kind of work which brought me in contact with the outside tht I didnt lose tht ability to communicate, convene, concentrate.

    ....I'm a mother yes but I dont want to forget that I'm a woman too:-)).

  2. Wonderful post Shalom :) You know there are times when I have tried to ask myself that question too... but always refrained from answering coz I always thought it will open a whole plethora of new questions. But I think it is important that each of us answers that basic question for our own sake...coz we tend to live a life of other people's expectation...well a lot of us actually, and many of us forget our inner fire as we carry on the routine of our lives. I dont think we realise we are much more than the credit we give ourselves...

    Loved this post..this is going to be my "TOP READ FOR THE WEEK" post...everyone should read this one!! :)

    Thanks for sharing this :) Hugs to you >:D<

  3. Reflections - yeah I suppose I'd feel the same once my kid/s were schooling.

    Smriti - "many of us forget our inner fire as we carry on the routine of our lives".... that's very well put! I love that term 'inner fire'! And thank you soooo much for choosing to put this up as the 'top read'....hope it helps other bloggers who may come by!

  4. Nice post and thank for linking me!
    For me I could nevr get bigger than others. I believe that any action of me , which affects others also, has to consider that aspect also.

    For me I am a woman is ingrained inside me and doesnt need a reminder,but I cant live in peace if my any of my word or action hurts anybody or anybody's interests.

    I can be happy only if people around me are happy.aand that includes everybody, friends, relatives, family all.

  5. i remember the dissertation i did during my mba days .. i assisted my professor in his phd work and he took me for a ride.. 500 respondents.. that was too much for me to handle considering the time limit... now i feel sorry for people who are doing dissertation work for me.. life takes a full circle..

  6. Renu - you're always welcome :) I too don't make major decisions without discussing them with the people who matter to me. Their opinions and approval matter a lot.

    Chriz - yup, life always does come full circle. Though this 500 respondents thing reminds me of the small research projects we had to do in college. I think we just needed 100 questionnaires filled, half of which each of us would get done by the other classmates, rest by juniors / seniors / any student hanging out useless. If we still couldn't reach 100, then we'd promptly fill some out ourselves on behalf of our parents, aunties & uncles & miscellaneous relatives :D

  7. Shalom, this is a very interesting concept. i always ask myself this question and always come up with multiple answers. I guess this circle concept can be use to access anything that has to be determined an important level. good post.

  8. A - Thanks! We come up with multiple answers because we're all so multi-faceted.....I guess putting it down on paper is just a way of making you realise which among all those answers really matter.

  9. :) the best way to go about things is to avoid thinking about such questions... :) LOL....
    best of luck on your new role....
    what co-incidence, I just did a post called "Who am I?"..... I am not joking...... :)

  10. Ordinary Guy - Ignorance is bliss isn't it? :D
    Thank you for the wishes. Just read your post :)