By: Nicole Resnick ‘23
In fourth grade, I sat down with my purple sparkly pen, my owl spiral notebook, and a
plan. How I Want To Be. Then a list of twenty or so adjectives and descriptions to them.
Friendly, outgoing, fun. My friend Syd could talk with anyone. Courageous, bold. Like the main
character in my beloved book series. Ambitious, smart. Like the brother in my favorite TV show.
Kind, loving. Like my elementary school best friend.
Basically, this list was an outline of the type of person I would mold myself into over the
next eight years, based on people I had encountered in my life. And I had to be all of them. This
systematic characterization of the person I wanted to be was, at best, freaky, and at worst, a little
psychotic. I couldn’t build-a-bear my personality. And yet, when I look at that list now, so many
of my values are the same. I sculpted what I wanted in myself.
How do we create who we are? Is your past determinant of what you will become? A lot
of psychology will say that, yes, trauma and other major events in early childhood will determine
much of your personality and fears as you grow older. Other philosophers argue that there is no
such thing as a definite result in personality. Some believe you become what you make of a
situation. The lesson or takeaway you have from each experience is what compiles your beliefs,
and, on a larger scale, your personality. I try to grow from every experience. Is this search for a
better self invaluable when explicitly seeking for it?
I think your view of a situation affects everything. Ultimately, your outlook of the world
shapes who you are as a person, and how you experience it. In this light, what you make of a
situation creates you. Actively working towards who you want to become will lead you in the
right direction, even if it’s not where you end up. Because I was working in the direction of my list, I achieved a result nearing my goals. Maybe personality is like flexing a muscle or setting a
consistent sleep schedule; it can be worked and molded into whatever you want it to be, but
biologically, it has its limits.
On this note, what parts of my personality were predetermined before birth, and what
parts were created by the environment I was brought up in? I think most people’s personalities
are results of their environment. I don’t really think there is an innate set self before you even
come into the world. Going by my assumption, we are never done growing. The more we
experience, the more we learn. There’s a quote I like by Walt Whitman that says, “Do I
contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” To me,
this is the way we change from year to year, month to month, and day to day. You can not be
expected to be one type of person. Often, because of media, people are presented as one thing.
Quiet or loud. Nice or mean. And more than that, people are expected to brand themselves. What
type of person are you? Show us through your speech and your clothes and the people you
surround yourself with. This type of person must be comprehensible and understandable and
likable. This person must fit, if not a box, a “describe yourself in three words” prompt. You can
not be a person; you must be a type of person. It is almost like we are meant to market ourselves.
If I’m trying to work against this idea of advertising myself, how can I possibly pick what
I want to be? Do I not change each second? Is it unnatural to have a list of ways to be and to act
in pursuance of these ways? Or is who I am merely made up of my reaction to the circumstances
I am put in?
Once again, it circles back to perspective. Your perspective of the world is a reflection of
who you are. If your reactions are what make you you, then there must be a larger perspective
you have that makes you react in this way. Let me give an example. If a person cuts me off in traffic, I can respond in two ways. I can curse at them and swear to get my revenge and honk my
horn like I’m lost at sea. I could do this for a number of reasons–maybe I had the worst day of
my life, or I have just started driving and am scared to get hurt, or there’s a kid in the backseat I
have to keep safe. Or I could do nothing. And maybe I do nothing because I didn’t notice, or
because I’m trying to be compassionate to others, or because I lost my voice and can’t yell. The
point is, to the outside world, it doesn’t matter. My perspectives and experiences shape my
reactions, which in turn shape who I am to the world. In this way, it is seemingly impossible to
give ourselves an adjective or attribute when we are a series of perspectives and reactions. How
are we even supposed to try doing it for others? So then it makes sense that we’ve created a need
to market ourselves to the world–how else will we get who we are across?
So little me made a list of how I want to be when I’m older. And that list rings very true
to me today. I work, when I remember, in accordance with who I hope to be, and with practice,
I’ve built the essential skills and responses needed to be how I want. This doesn’t mean I’m
happy with the result, or that I’m done growing, it means I have the base. The more questions I
have about authenticity and personality, the more perspectives I see these topics through. In this
way, I’m never done learning. I don’t think I will ever be at a point in my life where I know the
answers definitively. But that additional layer of perspective is what’s going to keep me growing.