When I typed in the title of this post, I thought motivational speaker Lizzie Velasquez had said, “What defines you?”
Looking back at the video (a good journalist always quote checks!), I realized she had phrased the question in a much more meaningful manner: “How do you define yourself?”
Velasquez, who has never weighed over 64 pounds in her life, and who was once called ‘the ugliest woman in the world’ in a viral video ridden with hate and insensitivity, doesn’t let nouns or adjectives become a ‘what’ that defines her.
Instead, she uses a method, a ‘how’, to look at herself. The figurative lens of this ‘how’ reveals Velasquez as a motivational speaker and writer, which are essentially qualities that describe her, not objects that encompass her identity.
I had initially mulled over the words I assumed she said, saying ‘writing defines me’, or ‘love defines me’, or something like that.
But I should not passively reduce my identity to a static thing.
Instead, I should switch to active voice. I should say: “How do I define myself?”
It is abundantly different than saying “What defines you?” The title of the YouTube video highlights “How do YOU define yourself”? The “YOU” is in all caps. It stands out, drawing attention to the owner of the aforementioned definer.
“I define myself as a writer.” I take possession of my talent. But it is I who grabs ahold of it, because letting writing in turn define me would mean that I am not in control. I am the passive object of the sentence, and also its meaning.
I’m not going to lie– over the years, the times I wrote the most were the times I was most emotionally stable. But at the same time, especially this year, writing had actually threatened to consume me as I began to compare my creations to other people’s. My writing itself became an entity, an ego-driven monstrous need that demanded to be fed, rather than a growing, healthy muscle being nurtured by my own knowledge and experience. At those times, when I wrote more for the attention of others and with the harried sensation that I had to produce, faster, better, all the time, my voice legitimately struggled. You could say it was being eaten up by the institution of ‘Crystal’s Writing’.
When writing wasn’t verging on becoming an obligation, I would use it as some sort of defense mechanism, freaking out about whether I was ‘properly improving myself’ and continuously gloating that when x y and z were going wrong in my life, at least I was still bad-ass at expressing myself. If someone was better than me at something, I would try to level the playing field by thinking that my writing was at least superior, or something among those lines.
But when I decide to look at myself as a writer, a person who wants to share ideas with the world and touch people’s lives with them, things change. This new perspective is more about me, but not necessarily in a selfish way. It’s healthier to see me, Crystal Duan, through the lens of loving to write, not catering to ‘writing’ as something that swallows up my entire being. I am a writer who uses words and phrases as complements and assets to her character, not sees them as the entire picture.
“I define myself as a lover.” I’m not romantically involved with anyone, so when I say ‘lover’, I’m talking in terms of people and compassion.
Right now, everything I’ve been trying to do is live with love full to bursting in my life. The only thing I may love more than writing is the joy people bring me. Hearing each and every person’s individual story, experiencing life with the close friends I’ve been able to meet over the years, and going out of my way to appreciate them in everything I do are actions I’ve chosen to use as how I define myself.
This ties into the fact that I strongly value my Christian faith–I feel God blessed me with a relatively non-judgmental outlook on people, and I’ve been trying to use this in the best way possible. Earlier tonight, I had actually stumbled upon a friend of a friend’s blog, and read about his personal strive to keep Jesus at the center of his life through all things journalism, sports, and relationships. It made me remember why I myself have struggled with my walk a bit this year, and it ties into this whole business of the difference between ‘what defines’ and ‘how do YOU define’.
When people start acting like Christianity is what defines them, then the religion becomes a mumbo jumbo of legalistic rule-following that almost always turns out hypocritical because we all are sinners. But when people say they define themselves as a Christian, which means ‘Christ-follower’, then a responsibility emerges. In your hands, you have the power to define yourself as someone who lives their life loving everyone –without judgment– so hard it hurts. You are the one who has the power to actively appreciate and accentuate your existence on Earth with thanks to God in everything you do.
Either way, you can’t look to a fickle man-made institution like Christianity for the reasons you do the things you do. If you are the one making the choice to be a Christ-follower, you are the one who caters to how it’s enhancing you–not what the demands of the ‘what’/Christianity may be forcing you to conform to.
So I’d say, instead of passively letting things of this world define me, I can grasp hold of them and make them my own. I can mold them into the ‘how’, the story of my life. Once again, they’re only props, not even supporting actors. They’re just props.
I’m my own person who makes the props lively, who enables them to flesh out the story of my life. It’s all about the ‘how do YOU’, not the ‘what’.