“It’s not a question of who are we really. It’s who we want to be.”
Those are the lyrics from Paramore’s lesser-known B-side track Escape Route. They have stuck with me since the first time I listened to the song in 2013.
I can’t believe I never realized it myself. How true Hayley‘s words are.
I’m sure the actual meaning behind them was the band choosing to go for a new sound after two of its members had left, rather than trying to recreate what they used to have. But to me the lines seem to bear a different message.
We go through life searching for ourselves, trying to define who we are based on our likes, dislikes, abilities, BuzzFeed quiz results … when it’s really all about who we want to be.
Who I am now is not the same person I will be in 5 minutes–everything is changing all the time. Life never stops happening and so every little experience I have will steer my identity boat in one direction or in one of the million of others. So by trying to understand who I am, I only resemble that dog who’s chasing his own tail, but is ultimately just running in circles.
Plus, we don’t always get to choose who we are.
Just because I’m good at math, doesn’t mean I want to be. It’s just a genetic advantage I’ve got from my mother. But I did not choose to be good at it. Does being good at math then define who I am? I don’t think so.
Just because I can’t play the piano (yet), doesn’t mean I completely reject the idea of learning to and have no sensitivity to musical intricacies. Does the fact that I don’t play the piano then define who I am? I don’t think so.
Martin Eden, the title character in Jack London‘s 1909 novel, was born and raised to be a poor, working-class sailor with bad language, no education, and no understanding of etiquette. Yet he wanted to become a writer. To other characters in the book who only saw him for what he, supposedly, was, he seemed unintelligent and inferior. But to us, the readers, who saw how passionate and hard-working he was, how quickly he grasped the unfamiliar concepts coming from the writers and academics he met, he seemed just as intelligent as a regular person, if not more.
Eventually he did find success in authorship and others began to see that intellect we knew about all along. I’s because who he was then was expressed through who he wanted to be.
So, did Martin Eden’s life as a sailor and lack of education define his intellectual abilities? No.
The future we see for ourselves defines who we are. A medical student with a dream to become a neurosurgeon, who scored just below the cut-off point and lost his spot in the course, is still intelligent, ambitious and caring.
The reason why this makes sense, I think, is based on having control and over which things. We have only partial control over how well we do in school or whether we take piano lessons as kids (think about the effect that parents, teachers, friends, money, genetics … have). But we do have full control over who we want to be.
It’s not just me and Hayley who believe this to be true. Dumbledore (i.e. J. K. Rowling) said almost the exact same thing when Harry worried his ability to speak to snakes meant he was as bad as Voldemort:
“It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are. It is our choices.”