Over the past six months I began to separate things that were truly important to me and those that were not. I began to think a lot about the kind of life I wanted to live going forward, my legacy and how I was going to achieve it. I wondered what kind of a wife and family I would want for myself as I prepared for this phase of my life. In short, I did a lot of soul searching to answer this question; who am I?
Who am I? That question lies at the very heart of my identity and yours. And as I think about the solutions to the African challenges acknowledged in previous articles in the African Transformation series, I understand that it must all start with addressing the issue of identity. It must start with you and me. There is no African Transformation without yours and my transformation. It has to be a holistic transformation. We are the building blocks of this 900 million continental population.
I think the question of who or what is an African is one of the most hotly contested in the African Transformation agenda. Thabo Mbeki wrote his famous ‘I am an African’ poem which has gone on to achieve cult status. And in it he dealt with the issue of identity.
The issue of identity must be dealt with because before you establish what you will do in life, you need to know who you are. It informs why you do the things you do. Unfortunately, in our modern world, without knowing and being very comfortable in your identity, you will find that an identity will promptly be given to you. And you tend to become who they say you are because you begin to believe it. It won’t be long before you start acting the way someone carrying your identity should act. And do you know why? Because identity is closely tied to your self esteem.
I noticed something very strange. For most of my life, I have lived alone. It wasn’t until recently that I began to live with people from time to time. When I moved into my current pad, I found nothing in there, except a renovated and fresh-paint smelling house. Then I cleaned the place out and moved in with my furniture. I kept moving furniture around and buying more until I had satisfied myself that I had exactly the outcome I wanted. In other words, I didn’t rest until I felt like the place was more…me. Identity. Hold that thought. It’s about to get interesting.
Then I began to have visitors. They always use the guest bedroom. Of course I would go in every morning and greet them and make small talk before going to work. Overtime, I realized I didn’t want to go in there anymore. I felt strange. The place was changing into something else! It was no longer the same place! I began to gasp! My throat dried up! This couldn’t be happening! I needed a glass of water, quick! Somebody call 911! *Movie-type suspense music in the background!!!!* What was the problem? You want to know? Well, suddenly my place just didn’t feel like…me. Identity.
What am I trying to say? Whether you are conscious of it or not, you carry your own identity with you everywhere you go. And you recreate who you are on the inside on the outside. If you want to look at what is going on inside a person, just look at the environment they have created around themselves because your identity has an environment in which it needs to be nurtured and grow into more and more of itself. See the danger in that? An addict becomes more and more addicted because he keeps on recreating an environment that natures his addiction. Equally true, a musician becomes better and better at his art by recreating music everywhere. That is why both are where they are. People recreate their identities. There is a popular saying that when people move, they move with their clothes, furniture, vehicles and …rodents. Truer words have not been spoken.
In view of the foregoing, the issue of identity cannot be left to others to define for you. You will try to live your life in other people’s realities and will constantly try to be them. If you are lucky you will get frustrated to the point where you cast aside other people’s identities and mould your own. Only then will you begin to experience true satisfaction and make a positive impact as your Creator intended.
That is why, as you begin to evaluate your identity, you must look at that critical component of the process of forming one; self esteem. Let’s unpack this one.
According to Wikipedia, Self-esteemis a term in psychology to reflect a person’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. It is conceptualized as an attitude toward the self and is similar to a judgment of oneself. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, “I am competent”, “I am worthy”) and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame. The self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, the positive or negative evaluations of the self, is how we feel about it’.
According to the above definition, and loosely, your self esteem is an evaluation of your identity. If who you think you are is evaluated by yourself in a negative way, you will have a low self esteem. If who you think you are is evaluated in a positive way, you will have a high self esteem. And we know that depending on the state of your self esteem, you can go near or far in life. If you believe you are not worthy it, you will begin to recreate that feeling on the outside and before long, you will be treated like you are not worthy it. Deep calls unto deep. Shallow never calls unto deep.
Depending on who you have defined yourself to be you can have a happy life or a depressed life. You can smile and have fun here and there but as long as the issue of your identity and therefore self esteem has not been settled, you will look for it in the wrong places and will constantly be frustrated. I have learnt to vigorously defend against anything that encroaches on my self esteem because it won’t be long before my evaluation of my identity becomes negative and before long I have to change into something I am not and that is not necessarily beneficial to me. My point is, we need to form our own identity based on a number of factors, form a healthy evaluation and opinion of that identity and use that confidence in ourselves to move forward in life, recreating that state of affairs in ourselves on the outside. We will then tend to attract more and more of what we have on the inside.
And so the question to be asked is, who are you? Who am I? What constitutes my identity? If I continue to hold the same opinion and evaluation of myself as I do, where am I likely to be five years from now? How about ten years? Am I going to have the kind of career I want? What about the kind of family I desire? What about my friends? Am I likely to go through life happy or depressed? And if you don’t like the answers you are getting my friend, it is time for a reality check. Check who or what is giving you your identity. Whose philosophy are you following? Is there an incident you are holding onto that is a source of a negative identity of yourself? Is it like a spring bringing forth bitter waters continuously and poisoning everything in your life?
As I wrap up this article let me bring it all together now. I love it when a plan comes together.
When the Europeans came to Africa, their ability to conquer Africans was based on their ability to convince us Africans that they were superior to us and therefore we needed to give up everything in order to try and be like them. As we gave up everything, including our resources, trying to be them, we woke up one day to find that we had lost our inheritance and up to now we are fighting to regain it. They messed with our identity until we loathed ourselves for being Africans. I heard a funny story about how the Europeans came and said to us, “Let’s close our eyes and pray.” When we opened our eyes, we had the bible and they had the land.
If you want to mess with a person, mess with their identity!
Therefore, as an African, the first place you want to start from is settling this issue that there is nothing wrong with being born on African soil. You are who you are. You can’t change that, even if you wanted to. Once you accept your African identity, and I am not necessarily saying African culture, you have started on the journey to Personal Development. As you go out there in the global village then, you are not afraid of being exterminated for being an African but you will proudly make a difference while telling them your surname is Mukonoweshuro!