The Small Matter Of…Defining Your Life

First published in Trespass Magazine on February the 18th, 2010.

I was watching ‘Brothers and Sisters’ on Monday night when Kitty Walker’s character, played by Calista Flockhart, announced to her family that she had cancer. Later in the episode, in a discussion with her husband Robert, she declared that she ‘didn’t want her life to be defined by cancer.’

And it got me thinking about what defines our lives.

Most things I read or watch tell me I shouldn’t be defined by my career. Or my car. Or my shoes. Or my postcode. Most people tell me they don’t want to be defined by theirs. People don’t ever want to be defined by an illness, or a misfortune. And no one wants to be a victim, or misunderstood.

But if it is not our career title that defines us, or the scars that mark our body, or the label stamped on our soles, then what does?

The truth is, I don’t know.

It’s possible that what defines us is both interchangeable and intangible. And I’d like to think that what really defines us is the thing that matters most in our lives; our attitude. Our integrity. The way we treat people. The way we expect to be treated. The way we want to be remembered.

And I believe that something challenging in life, such as Kitty Walker’s cancer, can’t not define us. We are our experiences. Just like your job cannot not define you. It does. Because it is a part of you. And we are what we do. But I still believe that what matters most is how we act doing it.

Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and I mean genuinely nice people, have been the biggest bogans I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. Some of the funniest people I’ve met have been the most disadvantaged I’ve encountered. And those people I’ve come across who are bursting with hope are usually the ones that need it most. So while I believe that we are defined by the material goods cushioning our lives, and the titles on our business cards, I still can’t shake the idea that what matters most is how we act, and how we make people feel.

I’m a writer and an editor. I inhale words and books like oxygen. My best friend is dyslexic. He never reads. In fact, he can’t do so very well. He rarely writes. And when he does, spelling is not really a consideration. We work in two entirely different fields. We have very different backgrounds.

We are the two most unlikely of friends, on the surface. But once you peel off the superficial layer, we’re exactly the same. The way we think, the way we feel, the way we communicate. He is 90% to blame for the fine lines forming around my eyes – it is his fault that I laugh too much. My point? That had we allowed all of the above – the careers and abilities and backgrounds – to define us, we would have limited ourselves and never allowed the most pure of friendships to form. Maybe I wouldn’t have fine lines around my eyes, but I wouldn’t have had one of the best people I could ever know as a major player in my life either.

I still don’t really know what defines us – my idea of it is just that, my idea. But what I do know for sure is that you shouldn’t ever allow yourself to be defined by things like titles or roles or cars or postcodes or soles of shoes – sure, they may be nice, they may be important – but they are also limiting.

Be the person now that you want to be remembered for; kind, talented, happy, intelligent, trendy, hilarious. And define others by the way they make you feel. Anything else is just interchangeable and intangible.

3 thoughts on “The Small Matter Of…Defining Your Life

  1. I love how you were prompted to reflect by Brothers & Sisters. I am big on being prompted to think about the big questions in life by everyday information or stories (real or fictional) that I come across and yes these include the TV shows I love to watch….at the moment when I watch Big Love I ask Who completes me? when I watch Mad Men I am thinking about “How I show up” and good manners and etiquette…Keep watching and thinking….thank you for sharing.

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