My family in character

Who shall I be day

I was delighted to find out that today is national ‘Who shall I be day’, although this is only celebrated in America. It is a day for people to understand who they are and what they shall be.

I love the idea that we can have a day when we can drop our usual persona and be somebody else. Each summer school holiday, I used to let my children each have a day when they were in charge and all the family did and ate whatever they chose. We had some lovely days, even the one spent visiting a cemetery!

But what does this mean? Who shall I be? Does it mean personality wise, role or work wise? What makes us who we are?

I am a business executive, I am a friend, I am a mother, I am a wife, and each requires a different set of skills and emotions. Is it possible to know who we are without defining ourselves by our profession, our gender or our relationships? Should we instead describe ourselves by our personality traits? I am kind, I am fun, I can be difficult and moody. I am made up of many thoughts, feelings, behaviours, fears, aspirations, needs and roles – that is what defines me, and I am who I am because of all the above.

How much a person is formed by nature (genetics) or nurture (our upbringing and life experiences) is an age-old question posed by psychologists. However, these are influenced and dependent on each other, intertwined.

For example, in my family, all the women are very strong-willed and independent, a re-occurring pattern descending from my great grandmother through the generations down to me, my sisters, my niece and my own daughter, so genetics may have played a part, but then it could be argued that we were role models for each other and were also influenced by our life circumstances.

Given the chance, many people would change who they are to follow a dream, to change their jobs, to do something else, to become someone else. All of us who immigrated to Portugal took the opportunity to change our lives and record numbers of people continue to move here hoping for a better lifestyle for themselves and their families, a change that will have a huge influence on who they are and who they become.

The weather, the social scene, the people, the amazing food, the culture, everything influences those who live here. I am sure that my children are different people to who they would have been had they grown up in England, and so am I.

However, we are all a work in progress perpetually adapting and developing according to life choices and experiences, learning from our successes and our failures. Who someone is at a particular point in time does not necessarily define them forever. Who we are today is not necessarily who we will be tomorrow.

It takes courage and resilience to change ourselves whether it is our behaviour, a characteristic, a job or a relationship, but by setting ourselves achievable positive targets, no matter how small, we can get closer to our goals.

There used to be a children’s programme I watched called “Mr Benn”, a cartoon businessman wearing a suit and bowler hat, who would go into a dressing up shop and put on a character costume, which allowed him to become the character and go on an adventure.

We all put on different characters depending on who we are with and what we are doing. In the mid-1990s, I made a dramatic switch from my daily commuting to the City of London, where I worked in a bank, to instead become a primary teacher to 32 lively six-year-olds.

I loved it, but I soon realised that my career change meant I had to put on an act all day. I had to be fun yet authoritative, responsible and grown up! No matter how I felt or what problems I had in my personal life, I had to be “Miss Costa”.

Children enjoy dressing up, pretending to be somebody else, and it is a part of growing up which allows them to role play and act out scenarios, thus enabling the development of language and social interactions.

As adults, we act, to a certain extent, in our personal and professional lives to be who people perceive or want us to be, depending on the circumstances. We often conform for family, peers and society. We all have a role to play, however, as Abraham Lincoln said: “Whatever you are, be a good one!”

Did you know that many famous actors are actually very shy people who took up acting as an escape from their natural inhibition and insecurities? Barbra Streisand, Tom Cruise, Eddie Murphy, Robert De Niro and Brad Pitt are known to be reserved and shy in their private lives and to feel uncomfortable with the social aspects of being a celebrity.

Jim Carrey could never be described as introverted, but he developed his comic skills to win friends and cope with his lack of self-confidence. Actors are able to spend much of their lives being someone else, often to escape from their own self-doubts and become a character so different to themselves.

Three members of my family belong to the Algarveans Theatre Group, and they thoroughly enjoy being the characters they play. I would not want to be on stage but have, in recent years, had to overcome my nervousness to do some public speaking for my job and to be the professional I was expected to be. So, no matter how old we are, it is never too late to learn something new, to retrain, to adapt and to have the passion to be who we want to be.

In 2015, I saw a photographic exhibition, the project of photographer João Porfírio and artist Catarina Fernandes, showing homeless people holding a blackboard written with what they would have liked to have been. A teacher, a stonemason, a footballer … I found the exhibition incredibly sad because these people were living on the streets of Lisbon and had been unable to achieve their aspirations.

One young man wrote ‘happy’ on his board because that was what he wanted to be. It was such a powerful message.

So, today, who shall I be? Happy and … a writer!
So now you know.

By Isobel Costa
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Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.

My sister Lara and niece Maxine in character
My family in character
Making a speech!