Editor’s Note: Laura Acuff, 2011 alumna, is a Fulbright Scholar teaching English in Bulgaria. She publishes a travel blog at lauracuff.tumblr.com.
Before I left Texas for Bulgaria, a dear friend told me she hoped I’d be able to use my time abroad to “learn about myself.”
The idea shocked me, at first.
It sounds so self-serving, so egocentric.
My goals for the year never will include any sort of whimsical quest to “find myself.” I’ve always believed that we are beings of action. We are what we do, so if you don’t like yourself, I reason, do something differently.
And yet, the older I get, the more I realize that we are products of our genetics and environments. And we spend much of our lives finding that balance between the individuals we are naturally inclined to be, the people we were raised to be and the beings we intrinsically want to be.
Changing ourselves remains as simple as changing our behavior, but changing our behavior requires navigating all those implicating, overlapping folds of attitudes, baggage and biases.
I believe I borrow this idea from C.S. Lewis, an infinitely more enlightened individual than myself, and I probably butcher the concept in my retelling, but I also think that, as spiritual beings, we exist with one foot in the material present and the other in the spiritual realm. We long to put down roots and establish a “home,” yet we continuously seek something more, whether in physical geography, relationships or spiritual assurance – we look for a permanence, a fulfillment, we’re not quite able to grasp in this world.
Along the same vein, we live in a world that labels us for its own functionality, and frequently we take up those yokes willingly. It’s easier to consider ourselves through the blinders of gender, profession or origin. And in many ways, it’s accurate – insightful, even. But it leaves our self-knowledge woefully incomplete, neglects those overlapping folds of identity. Still, one must wade through the surface-level mire to reach the fertile soil below.
All this to say, I’ve discovered that “learning about myself” is complicated and probably will continue beyond this year, beyond my time within the Bulgarian border.
But it’s a task I’ve begun, one I intend to see through.
And as the first public step of that task, I acknowledge my most basic identities. Without apology, without embarrassment, I realize and own that I am the stereotype:
I am the football-loving, slow-talking, Tex-Mex eating, rodeo-going, politically conservative Texan.
I am the relatively weather-conscious descendent of farmers, the verbose product of generations of teachers.
I am the initially quiet introvert.
I am the ethnocentric, English-speaking, constantly confused American – on a minimal level, at least.
I am the fervent female.
I am a stubborn, steadfast daughter of Scotland.
I am the nerdy bookworm.
I am the inquisitive, scandal-scenting journalist.
I am the quietly observant historian.
I am the proudly prudish, hopefully compassionate and generous – on my better days, at least – unabashedly trite Christian.