How to Define Who You Are

Many of the world’s dilemmas call to answer a question that philosophers have been asking for millennia: ‘What does it mean to be human?’

I guess there is no simple answer. We are what we perceive ourselves to be, by which I mean three things. Firstly, there is who we decide to be, then there is who we proclaim ourselves to be, and lastly, there is who we truly are. These are the three responses we can have to ourselves and the incongruences between them can sometimes be vast.
Our self-conceptions are, in turn, replies to our life experiences, preferences, ideologies and cultures. It’s important to note that how we perceive ourselves is not constant. How we see ourselves continuously shifts as we grow in awareness of ourselves over time.
The only way to tackle this question, ‘What does it mean to be human?’ is to explore how we look at ourselves (and other people) within the social, cultural, financial, and political conditions of our lifetime.

Our Perceptions of Ourselves Change Over Time

Attempting to define what it means to be human is like trying to explain the origins of time. We can only answer this question when we regard people as being rooted in their experiences – their cultural attitudes, educations, beliefs and goals.
Sadly, countless people journey through life defining themselves in an unhelpful way that restricts them and extends limited opportunity to grow, increase and improve.
Our perception of ourselves and our capabilities is like a surge in the ocean – it’s forever on the move. Perceptions shifts as we become more grounded in an understanding of ourselves through the process of honest self-evaluation, development, growth and maturity.
  • Some people define themselves by their roles and world responsibilities.
  • Some people define themselves by their faith, gender or sexual orientation.
  • Some people define themselves by their skills, talents, abilities and competencies.
  • Some people define themselves by their ideologies, religion or political stance.
While all of these things can fashion some aspects of our personality, defining ourselves in a way that is absolute and fixed leaves us limited room to evolve, develop and transform our perceptions regarding ourselves (which happens through the process of growing in maturity).
We can each use numerous of the millions of terms out there to ‘TRY’ and define ourselves, but in recent years I’ve personally found it far more peaceful to acknowledge that I ‘just simply’ am. That is all.

You Are Not Set in Stone

We’re each on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. Yet, sometimes the most significant hindrances that restrict our progression in life are the unnecessary limitations we place on ourselves by defining ourselves in a too small or limiting way.
Be unhesitant to redefine yourself each day.
We must strive to unlearn the opinions that other people have of us and become prepared to not accept anyone else’s definition of who we are. We must each strive to decide who we are and to what we’re willing to devote our lives.
When we don’t take ownership of defining ourselves, we stand at risk of being pressured into becoming other people’s illusions of who they think we are.
We can lose what we have, but never who we are.
We each must learn how to define ourselves accurately, as this is what will become our unique reference point for a balanced and consistent life.

“You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”

– Eckhart Tolle

For your reflection: In what ways might you have historically undermined or restricted yourself through how you have defined yourself? What new knowledge would allow you to see yourself differently?


Kain Ramsay
[email protected]

As an established teacher of personal and professional growth principles, and a champion of mental well-being, Kain Ramsay is regarded as one of the world’s foremost thought leaders of modern applied psychology.