Ever stop to ponder the answer to the question posed in the song lyrics for “Who Are You?,” the title track on The Who’s 1978 album? Coming up with the answer may be harder than you think.
I was forced to confront this question when drafting a cover letter for a proposed article being submitted to a magazine. The publication required that the piece I wrote be accompanied by a letter explaining to the editors who I was. Apparently, the obvious answer–author of the article being submitted–was not a sufficient explanation.
Typically the first thing I tell anyone about myself is my name. But a name is merely a form of identification, one I did not even choose for myself. A name might reveal something about one’s parents, i.e., they might have a strong sense of family if their child is a Junior or named for a relative. In my case I am named for my paternal grandmother. Nevertheless, my name does not convey to someone who I really am as a person. In fact, with some names today, you may not even be able to tell a person’s gender much less his personality or character.
People confuse the question “Who are you?” with “What are you?” Yes, my occupation will give some insight into me. Obviously I am not a dummy if I obtained a law degree; however, I could be book smart, but lack common sense. (Thankfully, I do have common sense.) What I do for a living is not who I am In fact, I rarely let people know I am a lawyer when I first meet them. I want them to get to know me for me and not from a starting point of preconceived notions about attorneys.
When telling someone who I am, it is common to indicate where I live or where I am from. Just because I am a GRITS (Girl Raised In The South) does not mean that you have a wealth of information about the real me. You might suspect that I like to eat grits (I do) and that I love sweetened tea (I don’t–unsweetened with lemon, please), but so what? While growing up I spent my time in the Yankee part of Georgia (also known as Atlanta). To paraphrase a famous line from “Gone With The Wind,” I don’t know nothin’ about living on a farm or a plantation either for that matter. No one even thought I had a Southern accent until I moved to Ohio where I was dubbed “Georgia Peach.” And, gasp, I don’t even like country music.
Describing who I am may encompass a relationship title. Yes, I am a mother. Yes, I am a wife. But my personal identity is neither determined by nor dependent upon these relationships. I thought it funny when I would attend officer’s wives meetings and the civilian spouses would act like extensions of their husbands. Just because your husband has eagles on his shoulders (i.e., has the rank of colonel) does not make you who you are–or better than I am. I’ll admit that I did answer to “Heather’s mom” or “Kevin’s mom” when my kids were young, but that does not mean that I did not have a separate identity from my offspring. My son found this concept hard to accept and repeatedly asked me what I would do with myself when he graduated from high school. Hmmm. Probably the same things I enjoyed prior to becoming his mother….
Who I am may depend on the situation in which I find myself. That’s why when references are sought, an applicant is often asked to give references from different spheres–home, school, work, church. If you deal with me in a professional setting, you would likely assume I am an extrovert. Nope! That’s me acting in a professional role and being friendly and engaging with clients, other attorneys, etc. If you know me from a personal encounter, you would think I am a shy, introvert. Yes, that’s me. Many would describe me as quiet and reserved. These are obviously people who have never been present with me as I watched my beloved Georgia Bulldogs playing football. GO DAWGS!!!!
So how do I tell someone who I am? I respectfully suggest that a one page cover letter accompanying a piece of my writing is not going to cut it. Want to truly get to know me? Take a trip with me. You can them observe how I am under different circumstances and at different times of the day. I am a morning person who cannot function without coffee to start my day and some alone time to end it. I do not do well when I am hungry or tired. I am a planner and am uncomfortable proceeding by the seat of my pants. Spending time with me is the best and only way to get an accurate picture of who I truly am..
The bottom line is that every individual is like a jigsaw puzzle. The finished picture is only achieved by fitting together a myriad of pieces to achieve the whole. Observing one or two of the pieces of the puzzle may give you some idea of what the big picture is, but it is an incomplete view. Who I am and who you are is a product of our experiences, vital statistics, relationships, etc.
If you have read to the end of this post, you have learned a few things about me. Obviously I like to write, I am an attorney with children, and I have a sense of humor. (Well, hopefully you think I have a sense of humor.) But do you know the real me from merely reading this post? No, and neither will that magazine editor who reads my one page cover letter. If you want to know who I am, spend some time with me. If you want to know about me, just read the cover letter for the proposed article I am submitting for possible publication.
Just WONDER-ing: What’s the first thing you tell people about yourself? What would people be surprised to learn about the real you?