During one of our weekend walks exploring San Francisco, Judy asked some tough questions of herself, “Am I the person I want to be? Who am I?”

Without getting too philosophical, these are questions that deserve time and thought. I think they help us focus our efforts and energy in life. Asking myself these questions sent me back to my youth to discover who I am today.

Growing up, I felt like I needed to do something huge, something that would change the world and affect every soul on this planet. My longing wasn’t for fame or fortune, I simply felt this was my destiny. Admittedly, I was a weird kid.

I had no idea what I was supposed to do or how I would do it. I was smart and a quick learner, but no genius. I had a natural talent for fixing things, but no sketches of life-altering inventions ever flowed from my fingers. I had a love for music, but my guitar playing caused my dog to walk away from me. How was I supposed to change the world with such meager gifts?

Over the past five decades, I’ve accomplished more than some and less than many. My choice in a life partner was brilliant and my kids impress me more and more each day as they evolve as adults, but my scope of universal change is tiny compared to the vision I had as a child. It’s difficult to define myself from within.

“So, what do you do?” Is a common opening question when we meet someone. What we do often defines who we are in our minds. Over the years, I’ve been a student, an entrepreneur, a software engineer, a father, a husband, and held many other minor titles. The truth is that I’m not any one of those roles that I have played and I’m more than the sum of them. So how do I answer those questions that my wife posed?

I don’t know.

That’s a disappointing answer, but it’s filled with truth. Most days, I’m happy with who I’ve become. I have great friends, a wonderful family, and I’m passionate about my work. For me, it’s okay to not have answers because I’m not done letting these questions drive my actions, but for the sake of this article, I’ll dig a bit deeper.

Am I the person I want to be?

Some days, yes. Others, not so much. I can always do better. I can be more inspiring or loving. I can give more back and choose to be less lazy. My standards are typically above my skills or energy, so I have to be careful with this question.

I’m not altogether sure who I want to be and that view changes based on the snapshot in time that I may have tried to define my future. The other question may be more fruitful.

Who am I?

At this moment, I’m a writer. That doesn’t define me fully—and pays no bills—but I enjoy this part of myself and it gives me a way to express my thoughts and feelings. I hope that what I write entertains or touches others and helps them in a small way.

When I finish this article and put down my iPhone (yes, I tend to write on whatever is nearby when inspiration hits and my iPhone is always with me), I’ll be someone else. I’ll call my mother and be the good son, chat with my sister and be a caring brother, or connect with my kids and be their dad. 

I think I am who I need to be in the moment depending on who I’m with at that time. My goal is to be the best me I can be. That sounds like a recruiting poster platitude, but it  also makes sense to me. If I’m not some grand figure that was created in a naïve vision of my youth, I can at least continue to grow and be there in small ways for those around me.

Maybe it’s the millions of small gestures that define us all. The person who changes the world does it by touching a handful of others and they in turn do the same. This planet certainly feels like a better place when I read about people helping people.

I can live with that answer. I am a contributor to the greater good. Some days I’m selfish and contribute very little and others I’m more magnanimous. I’m a constant work in progress.