The 2012 Act Three Journey of an Actress/Coach/Writer.

Day 6 What Defines You?

Posted by themirrenlee on 06/01/2012

What defines you?

Your work, your relationship, parenthood, your hobbies, your beliefs, even your addictions can make up who you feel you are.  So you might say, “I’m a lawyer, a husband/wife, a father/mother of 3, a movie buff, a smoker and a Christian.”

Ways in which you define yourself are often the areas that people look at when making resolutions for a fresh start, especially at the start of a new year.  They might say, “I’m going to quit my job, get a divorce, leave my kids, stop going to the movies, give up smoking and relinquish my faith.”  Of course, most people don’t go to that extreme in one hit, and nor should you!  If you give up everything that defines you in one fell swoop, then as my counsellor once said, that way lies psychosis.  You have no idea who you are or your place in the world, and you can suffer an existential breakdown.

What is interesting, though, is giving up just one part of what you define as who you are can really tear a hole in your psyche.  For instance, we’ve all heard the stories of people who lose their jobs not knowing then how to redefine their identities.  If you’ve done the same thing all your life, especially if you’ve been respected for it, then losing it can be very traumatic.  It not only involves a loss, it may also involve a change as you look for something else to do if the previous identity door is now closed to you.  My post on change talks about how scary it is for many people.

The thing is, changing what defines you is often a good thing.  Addictions spring to mind first, of course.  There is a school of thought that says when dealing with an addiction the best way to get on the path to breaking it is first to stop making it part of your identity.  So you would say, “I smoke,” not, “I’m a smoker,” because then you’re identifying a habit you’d like to break, not making it part of what defines your identity.

Maybe you’re in a job/relationship/whatever that isn’t good for you or doesn’t make you happy.  Then it would be a good thing to look at how you want to redefine some areas.  The only change I would say you’re not allowed to make is being a parent.  Back to my post on choices.  You chose it, your kid(s) didn’t.  Don’t add to the misery of bad childhoods and missing parents.  Step up to the plate and suck it up.  You’re not happy as a parent?  Too bad.  Make it work through the choices you make.

As for the other defining areas, my interest in writing and pondering about them comes from my own big changes this year.  Since I was a preschooler, I defined myself as an actress.  My nickname was Sarah Bernhardt (look it up).  It’s all I ever wanted to do.  I came to Australia at 18 years old after years of acting classes – I had my first Method class at the age of 9!  (On reflection, not that wise because what 9 year can draw on emotional memory effectively?  But I digress.)

I worked on TV in Australia and found out my theater training hadn’t prepared me for it, so I went back to Los Angeles and onto England (with my son I had at 16 in tow – more on that later) for further training.  Somewhere along the way I found I had a gift for teaching, and in my 20s that’s what I started doing.  I started with actors, then moved into business and psychology based courses and soon, before I knew it, even though I was still doing some acting, I had defined myself in my own, and everyone else’s, eyes as primarily a teacher.  Or the term I prefer to use is coach because I feel I coach people to go out on the field of life and win at whatever it is I taught them.  At the beginning of the new Millennium I started coaching actors in the American dialect for the U.S. productions that are made down here.  Somehow, that mushroomed and now I’m defined primarily in that role.  I am a voice teacher first, an accent/dialect coach second, but being known for my dialect coaching led people to ask me if I knew a good voice teacher!  You have to watch out for how narrow those definitions of you can get.

I was in long term relationships 4 times, but I found you’re not identified as a “wife” until you actually get married.  I hate that term with its baggage of pre feminist roles, and always used the word partner.  But I was still defined as someone’s other half.  I found it hilarious that when we spoke of our friends, my partner at the time and I would say things like, “Is that Sam of Sam and Susie, or Sam of Sam and Rebecca?” Defining the partnerships instead of the individual people.  Now I am divorced, but have been so for 20 years, so I’m not really defined that way anymore.  Now I’m defined as alone.  Interestingly, so many people seem to think that is a bad thing, but I found that after years of being the other half of someone else, I love now being the complete whole of myself.  It was no one’s fault, either.  I just wasn’t very good at keeping myself well defined and intact when merged with someone else.

I am a mother of 2, and was a single mother at 16, which was a far bigger deal in 1967 than it is now.  My son was defined as the only child in his class with a single parent – today it’s as common as not getting married.

I’m known as a reader because I read constantly – it isn’t just a hobby to me, it’s a source of creative input and emotional solace.  I also believe the answers to all life’s questions are in books!

So I have all of these aspects of what defines me, plus, of course, many others, just as you do.  This year, for me, part of the changes I want to bring to my life is to change some of my definitions.  I want to be more of an actress and less of a coach, for instance.  I want to live in a different place, meet some new creative people, and finish my many writing projects (finally) so that I can truly define myself as a writer as well.

So that’s why I ask, ‘What defines you?’  It’s a very good question to ask yourself as we start 2012.  Do you know all the answers or are you confused about your identity?  It’s hard to live a life satisfied with what you have if you don’t know whether or not it’s what you want!  Or maybe you do know the answers, and you’d like to change some things.  You’ll be a lot happier if you do, even if it seems hard and scary at first.  Finally, maybe it’s a question you’ve thought a lot about and are perfectly satisfied with where you are in life and with what you’re doing.  But, frankly, I doubt it.  From my years of coaching experience, I found that most people don’t question or examine their lives enough, for fear of what action they might have to take – those scary ol’ words “change” and “choice” start poking their heads up and asking for attention.

It’s a new year.  Is it also going to be (maybe at least partly) a new you?

I’m just askin’ …

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