`Who are YOU?' said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'

When the Caterpillar asks this infamous question in Alice in Wonderland, he's mainly just being difficult. But there's a reason such a pointed question stirs feelings in Alice - and in us. Ask any of us who we are, and there's at least two dozen ways we could answer. 

Most of us, if we're asked how we see ourselves, start listing off our titles and our accomplishments. "I'm a daughter. I'm a sister. I'm a Tarot reader and a coach. I'm a Floridian." We can go on and on with the labels we attach to ourselves, right down to things that set us apart from the mainstream, put us in categories, or even just put us down.

The thing is, so many of those things aren't permanent. They're changing, and our sense of self changes with them. Jobs are lost, divorces are filed, people move across the country or even across the world. One minute we "have it all together", with the relationships and careers we're told make us capable adults, and the next something changes - as life inevitably does - and the way we talk and feel does too.

But what changed? Are you any less 'you' when you've lost the weight, converted to the new religion, or made the move to another country? Or is there a core 'you', when you peel off all the layers, that remains constant no matter what is going on around you?

I'm not saying some labels aren't important parts of who we are. Sometimes they describe an experience we only share with certain people. Or they're part of an identity that's so important, we want the world to know it. 
But you ask five different people what those labels mean, and you'll get ten different answers. For a friend of mine, calling my ADD a "disability" meant I thought I couldn't do anything I set my mind to. I had to explain that for me, it meant I knew what naturally came harder to me, so I knew where I had to focus my energy - and to be patient when it took a little longer to improve.

In the end, it's what a label means to us more than the word itself. When I first went into business for myself, I researched the business style of a professional Tarot reader. Then I looked at coaching, and found that it was a huge element of what I did in my readings: helping clients take the next step towards the person they wanted to be, the life they wanted to live. But was I a life coach? A Tarot reader? How to market myself? I came to realize that these two parts of my work - the spiritual and the practical - were so intertwined they were both a part of what I did. Ultimately, no matter what the term, these were my tools as someone who loved to counsel, guide, and give.

So who ARE you?

Start writing - or talking, or vlogging, or whatever's comfortable for you. Think about what comes to mind when someone asks you that question. And then look for the meaning inside the words. What are the qualities in you that guide that huge part of your life? If you suddenly didn't have the money, the job, the spouse, what feelings from those things would still be left, shaping who you are?

And if you suddenly feel like you'd be less loveable, capable, or "together"...well, take a look at that. Where does that come from? You'd be no less loving, ambitious, or accomplished if you were still looking for a way to share it. And wanting something you feel you don't already have - well, that means you value those qualities. And that's a powerful thing all on its own.

Who are you? I guarantee you know, maybe even more than you think.

11/6/2012 10:19:38 pm

I love this post!
Very thought provoking, and a worthwhile exercise, which could be developed by asking 'why do we do what we do?'
So many people never ever do an exercise like this - either because they think it's nonsense, or they have just never heard of it, but if posts like this can nudge just one person to try the exercise, it's very powerful! Cheers, Gordon

11/11/2012 02:44:06 am

Thanks, Gordino! (And I love your 'handle.') I think so much of the world defines us by these things, the "what" of us and not the "who", that it's easy to forget until you've actually gone through a really big transition. I hope this really does inspire people. Thanks so much!

11/7/2012 01:42:59 am

So important! I was one of the lucky ones, I basically lost my home, my family, the country I lived in, my husband and the life I had worked so hard for, in the space of a few months. My life was turned upside down and shaken about so I had no choice but to ponder who I was. I say lucky because it was totally life changing! Knowing who I am, and just as importantly, who I am not, has given me confidence to life a full and ever changing life. So imagining this scenario before it happens is an excellant idea. There are no guarantees! There is no safety net! Discover you today so you can live an even better tomorrow :)

11/11/2012 02:42:27 am

Thank you so much for sharing that story, Kama. It's incredible that you fought your way up from that much dramatic change. And absolutely, it proves that the true self at your core survives through all of that!

11/7/2012 04:45:48 am

Great article Kim. As Gordon said, "very thought provoking." I've thought about this a lot and even wrote about the "why do we do what do" topic also mentioned by Gordon.

My answer to who am I is that I am a heart-centered, spiritual being. That is who I am at my core.

Good article.

11/11/2012 02:44:58 am

That's a wonderful thing to be at the core of you, Julia! Thanks for replying. I'd love to see your posts on this too.

11/8/2012 02:27:04 am

I LOVE this post! It's so true. When I was laid off earlier this year I went through a lot of soul searching, because the "me" who had always worked for this company no longer had those attachments. I'm pleased with what I found and think everyone should do this kind of inner work. Kudos!

11/11/2012 02:46:51 am

So glad this rang true, Mary! I went through something similar too, after a job change a few years ago. I definitely kept to some of the same skills in starting this business, but it made me realize just how much I was defining myself by my title. I'm glad your soul search led you to a good place, and good luck!

11/11/2012 02:17:51 am

A lot of wisdom is found in "Alice". I'm glad you took the time to explore this question and ask that others do the same. Truly, we are all several people, as perceived by those with whome we interact. To my children I am one person, my mother perceives me totally differently, my co workers only see one side of me. It is where all the perceptions overlap that the core being reside and she is constantly evolving. A really insightful post,.

11/11/2012 02:51:48 am

There's definitely a reason Alice has survived all these years. :) That's a really interesting thought, Lee. That's one more layer, on top of all our titles and affiliations - how do different people see us? And how close is it to the "real" us, or all those different views a part of us?

11/11/2012 03:43:11 am

You've reminded me of an episode of Babylon 5 where a character's being interrogated almost exclusively with the question, "Who are you?" The layers peel away each time the question is asked, though I'm not sure you can ever truly get to the core (mostly because I'm not sure we have the language for it).

Our definitions of ourselves can change on a dime, and often without us realizing it. I think often we take on other people's definitions far too easily, especially when they don't really fit us. We are too willing to let others define us rather than defining ourselves. (Or maybe I'm just talking about me! ;) ) It's good to ask every so often who and what WE think we are just to keep our footing.


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