“I’m Jean Valjean !” I just cannot help myself when I ask that question to follow it up with the line from Victor Hugo’s play Les Miserables. If you are not familiar with the play, Jean Valjean makes this proclamation when a man is placed into custody for crimes that Jean Valjean has committed. Jean Valjean is faced with the dilemma of walking away a free man knowing that someone else will pay for his crime or admitting to authorities that they have in fact arrested the wrong man and that the man they are looking for is him. He is torn between what is the right thing to do and what feels right to him at that moment. After much introspection (***Spoiler Alert***) Jean Valjean breaks into the courtroom as the wrongly accused man is about to be sentenced and proclaims “I’m Jean Valjean” ripping open his shirt exposing the prison tattoo placed upon his chest that confirms his identity as 24601. Now that we have a little education in the play Les Miserables, you maybe thinking, “What does this have to do with who I am?” Great question, it has a lot to do with finding out who you are, but before we go further, a little more education on Les Miserables.
Jean Valjean believes he knows who he is based on what other’s tell him; he is a criminal, he is worthless, he was never meant for anything good and he would never be anything to society then a thorn in it’s side. It isn’t until someone believes in him (a priest) and tells Jean Valjean that he has a soul, that he begins to look inward and see that maybe he is meant for something more. It is through the act of love, the love from another and the love for oneself that Jean Valjean begins to see that he was meant for something better. He does not know yet what he is to become but he knows that through love he will get there. He realizes that he is not what others have told him and it is up to him to decide who he is. Through introspection, he understands that it is he himself that has the ability to create whatever life he wants for himself. It is he who gets to decide what matters most to him, what values he will hold, and what decisions he will make. With all of this control and power comes the awesome responsibility of creating a life worth living. This process of creating the Jean Valjean he wants to become takes the entire play which spans over 50 years and even at the end of his life, he is continuing to assess the decisions that he has made and reassuring himself that his decisions were made in alignment with his soul . He is surrounded by his loved ones and the people whose lives he impacted and realizes that every decision, though it may not have been the right decision to others, was the right decision for him. He is comfortable with the life he has created knowing that through it all, he kept true to himself and didn’t give in when giving in was the easy choice. Every success and every failure, helped Jean Valjean discover who he is, what he stands for and who he wants to become in the world he belongs.
So what can be learned from Jean Valjean besides you need to see this play if you haven’t already? The lesson is that you get to decide who you are. You have the ability to create a person that you are proud of. You have the power to control the life that you live and if you do not take control, someone else will. Finding out who you are is not a single destination, it is a long journey that spans a lifetime. It is difficult. You will question yourself along the way and sometimes lose sight of who you are. But you must listen to your inner voice, your soul. Your soul is the part of you that is uniquely you. No one else can be you and no one else can know you like you know yourself.
Many people are afraid to get to know themselves because they may find parts of themselves they don’t like. The great thing is, if you find something you don’t like, you are the only one who can change it. I challenge you to take time to get to know yourself and love yourself. It is through love that all things are possible. Love you for the good and bad, no one is perfect. Enjoy the journey and challenge yourself to be the person you dream of.