“It is easier to live through someone else than to complete yourself. The freedom to lead and plan your own life is frightening if you have never faced it before. It is frightening when a woman finally realises that there is no answer to the question ‘who am I’ except the voice inside herself.” – Betty Friedan
You will all know that I am an advocate for personal development and growth which is linked to today’s the topic of identity. From the moment we were born our life experiences have shaped our identity. It is very easy to walk through life and not know who you are or what your purpose is, which leaves us feeling lost and empty. We must remember that our identity is not a fixed concept, we should embrace that who we are is an on-going process. I have previously discussed the fear of perception and that who we are is a reflection of our thoughts which are linked to our ever complex identities.
“Who am I?” for me, usually stems from fear and apprehension of the present and the future based on my past experiences. I actively have to make room for growth within my life, as who we WERE does not have to be who we ARE or who we WILL be. There are so many factors that make up our ever complex identity and below I will share a few that have shaped who I am becoming.
My Name: Ayotomilola
Meaning: Joy is enough for me than wealth.
The meaning of my name is just so me. My joy is paramount, that is not to say I do not aspire to be wealthy and financially stable BUT money does not rule who I am. I would much rather be full and surrounded by joy than money.
Story Time: I remember when I was in school, there was always one particular supply teacher called Mr Smith, and no matter how many times he would teach our class he would always disrespect me when it came to reading the register! I remember thinking here we go again (side eye). This was not because I could not excuse him for struggling to say my full name, it was because I had not only given him permission to call me “Tomi”, my fellow classmates had also helped by reminding him how to say my name on several different occasions. Nonetheless he continued to single me out and humiliate me by referring to me as “Ayot”. Excuse me what happened to the remaining seven letters of my name?
As a child, I was quite fiery but even at this age I knew the power of silence, so when “Ayot” was called, Ayotomilola remained silent. To which Mr Smith would repeat himself because he could clearly see I was in the class, at this point the class would shout in unison “Her name is Tomi”, subsequently Mr Smith would continue to read the register. At this age, I knew how important my name was because of moments like these. I was already the only black girl in my form, and one of four in the entire year group, so standing out had become the norm. I have always been proud of my eleven lettered name, nonetheless I did wonder (and asked my mum) why I did not have any English names and quite simply put she said “because you don’t” (that’s mummy for you – lol).
My name symbolises my Nigerian (Yoruba) heritage which I have come to love and appreciate. I want my children to also bear similar names and I am no way inclined to give them easy to pronounce names just to make it easier for other people. They will however have biblical names but even then I doubt I will make it their first name. No matter how short, long or “complicated” your name is, wear it with pride, it is part of your identity and who you are. Never let anyone make you feel inadequate because you are not the norm.
“Give your daughters difficult names. Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. My name makes you want to tell me the truth. My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.” – Warsan Shire
“If you can’t pronounce my name right, then you have no right to tell me to say water…” A fantastic video about respecting cultural differences.
I have four siblings and I am the eldest of four sisters. The unspoken expectation and responsibility that lies within this role is A LOT. I am always mindful that I have to set a good example for my siblings and that if I choose to “go off the rails”, I will be held responsible by my parents if my sisters were to follow suit. Within Nigerian households, you are given responsibility from an early age, which means that as the eldest it is likely that you will take on a caring role for your siblings. Growing up being the eldest and obviously knowing my sisters from birth, has added to my maternal instincts and my ability to relate and look after children.
Do you know who you are in or out of a relationship? It is very dangerous to loose sight of who you are when you are in a relationship, because the power dynamics shift. They shift towards your significant other defining who you are at any given moment.
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”
― Harvey Fierstein
Do you know why suddenly you don’t dress up anymore?
Do you know why you suddenly don’t do the things you used to when you were single?
I’m not saying don’t be progressive but know why you start and stop doing certain things and let the reasons lie within your decision-making process and not the subtle dictatorship of another person. I remember that I was lost in 2011 because of a break up, as in I no longer knew who I was anymore. I could not envision my future because I had hooked my everything on to one specific person and now that person no longer wanted to be with me. This experience pushed me to actively seek to know who I am. Remember that no matter the relationships, achievements and accomplishments, you must know who you are in order to never lose sight of where you are going.
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
― Oscar Wilde
There is so much more I could say on the topic of identity, but I don’t want this post to turn into an essay.
Look out for Who Am I? – Part 2.