How do we define ourselves? Are we doctors, teachers, Christians? Are we activists, naturalists, capitalists? Republicans? Democrats? What is our identity?

There are so many things people see and feel and experience when they get to know us better. Our personalities, where we have been, and what we do for a living play a major role in who we become, but that stuff doesn’t totally define us. Sometimes it’s difficult to look past accomplishments, jobs, family ties, or even sexual preference to get to know the real person lurking within another person, but that is essentially what we must do.

There are things that define us, and things that do not. When seeking a new relationship it’s important to weed out what doesn’t matter, because this helps us get to the core of a person. Getting to know the core of a person is indeed the only requirement for any lasting friendship or partnership.

There are 9 things that do not define me, and I will assume that they do not define you either:

My depression. It’s a disease. Just like any other ailment, my depression doesn’t showcase who I really am. It’s something people see and feel when they spend time with me. They see me staying in bed, trudging around, lethargic, and sad sometimes. They see some of the darkness that obscures my light. My light is who I truly am, but my depression blocks it from view. Get to the light, and you will get to the real me.

My bank account. Rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle. The money I have might come from a lot of places aside from what I do to make it. Sometimes we inherit money from relatives. We can live a “good” life, filled with material things and vacations, while other people work their asses off and have next to nothing to show for it. Either way, my bank account (and how I acquired it) doesn’t make me worth knowing or not. Rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle is not an acceptable definition of who I am.

My sexual preference. Who I sleep with has nothing to do with who I am as a person. Gay, straight, bi-sexual – whatever my sexual preference, those words are labels, and none of them begin to define me to the world. Who I sleep with doesn’t precede anything good or bad I do. There are a lot of mean, awful people out there, (as well as caring, noble ones), and guess what? Some of them are gay, some of them are straight, and some of them are bi-sexual. Who I decide to partner with is my business and it doesn’t add to or subtract from my belief system or what I will contribute to society.

My parents and siblings. I am not my family, and my family isn’t me. Many people have broken free of their family bonds for good reasons. Maybe their families are ignorant, or racist, or hateful. Whatever the case may be, one does not have to live with the stigma that their family name represents to other people. Conversely, if your family is super successful (because success is defined by how much money they make), but you are not making any of the money, how does that define you?

My past. Like it or not, everyone has a past. Some of us are proud of our past, and some of us, not so much. It’s not about what I did “back then” (achievements, mistakes, awards, embarrassments), it’s what I learned. Does your past make you think about the value of your life differently and do you behave differently now than you did long ago? You do? Okay, then your past made you, but it does not define you.

My social media. Pretty pictures everywhere! Trips to islands far away! Beautiful children, and report cards! Restaurants and food! Friends! It gives people a glimpse into my life, but let’s face it, what I post to Facebook or Instagram is just the good stuff. There is no such thing as an ugly photo. Every moment posted is just another big happy event. To know me on social media is to know nothing.

My job. Are you a garbage collector, or a salesperson, or an executive? Does your job help you put clothing on your kids, and food on your table? Do you provide for your family? Wonderful. But if you are not fulfilled by your job (and 85% of us aren’t), you simply cannot be defined by it.

My illness or disorder. If I had cancer, I might be described as the cancer patient. If I had autism, then autistic is who I become to the world. Illnesses or disorders of any kind should never define who we are as people. It’s part of us, for sure, but it isn’t the whole story. We must halt our need to place each other into categories.

My Body. I’m fat, thin, round, square, little, or big. I’m squishy, firm, short, tall, stocky, beefy, waif-like, slender, or curvy. These descriptions don’t mean a damn thing about who I am, or what I want, or how I live my life. If you define me by what you see, you will never, ever know me.

So how do we define ourselves and what does it mean?

Our convictions and our actions are what tell our truth to the world. What defines who we are ultimately revolves around our religion (or lack thereof) and yes, our political views. When I think about it, I realize that both play a huge role in how I view the world, and how the world views me. Like it or not, our truth comes from what we are taught, our experiences, and what we choose. What we believe (and what we do with our beliefs) is how we are defined. If we indeed tolerate or excuse misogyny, racism, sexism, homophobia, exclusion, narcissism, bigotry, snobbery, or ignorance in any form, than that is the footprint we will personally leave here on Earth. If we can dilute or dissolve any of those things through our actions and words, we will surely leave a more positive energy. 

Fear breeds hatred, but love enters when we conquer fear. As we live and breathe, what we believe inside our souls ultimately defines and dictates our legacy. It’s a simple concept, but one that rings true the moment it is conceived.