I was going to start a piece about boundaries that my daughter had requested but every time I started it I realized that there was a foundation piece that hadn’t been addressed yet. This is it. The question all other questions are based upon. Who are you? The answer to this seemingly simple question is the basis for everything else in your life. Not only boundaries, but things like, what are your goals, what does happiness / success look like to you, what makes you get up in the morning, what is your purpose and, well, everything else. So, how do you find yourself?
How did you get lost
Most of us have spent most of our lives doing and being what others need or want. This is a survival instinct so don’t get too down on yourself about it. We need to fit in, we need a pack and we desperately need the care of our parents. We are born and live out most of our childhood being completely physically or financically dependant on others. In later childhood peers and social pressures get added to the mix then romantic entaglements and child rearing. It seems to be a never ending stream of people to please and outside standards to live up to.
There comes a point in your life when you suddenly snap out of it and realize that in the process of doing the right thing and living up to everyone else’s standards and ideas of who you are you have completely lost yourself (or maybe you never knew yourself to begin with). This causes a huge existential crisis and I don’t mean buying a sports car! Suddenly you realize you have no idea what you want… maybe you never have. How do you get to the bottom of this without blowing up your life?
Welcome and Accept Yourself
When you start this process make yourself feel welcome and accepted. You would do this for anyone else so, do it for yourself. Every step of the way be open and welcoming. Be kind to yourself and non-judgmental. There will be things you discover that you will be surprised by or that you might not like. You may have an instinct to reject or immediately change certain aspects of yourself. Keep in mind that nothing is permanent and that you can change these things as time goes on. For right now just accept them. Acknowledge everything about yourself as if you are a scientist making an observation. It is neither good nor bad, it just is.
Allowing yourself this freedom will help you to be completely honest about who you are. It will also keep you from getting distracted along the way. If you’ve never done this before and are starting at square one this will be imperative so that you can dive deep enough to really assess yourself.
Start a journal. Actually, start 2. A full sized notebook for home and a mini one you can keep in your pocket or purse when you’re out. Self-discovery is a full time job! Keep track of the things you are finding out. Write it down. I do mean old fashioned paper and pen. Enjoy some doodling. Write some lists. Write a question at the top of the page and brainstorm. Jot down whatever comes to mind under it. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here.
Here are some questions to get you started. What makes you happy? If you had your ideal life what would it be? Who do you enjoy spending time with and why? What things make you feel most like yourself? If you’re looking for something a little simpler to start with here are some more ideas. What is your favorite color? Where would you most like to travel to if money wasn’t a consideration? Would you ever move to a different state or country? What would be most challenging about that? What would be easiest?
Still not sure what to write about? No worries, I’ve got you! Come back next week to check out 31 Journal Prompts to Discover Your Authentic Self. You’re going to love this impactful month long exercise!
Go back in time
Take a moment to think back to your childhood. Try to remember what you enjoyed the most and your greatest struggles. Let these memories guide you to add more questions to your journal. Think about who you would be if not for certain experiences. If necessary give yourself permission to grieve the life you dreamed of. Consider who you wanted to be as a grown up. What life did you see for yourself? How did you see yourself and the world around you? The answers to these questions hold amazing insights into who we are. Thinking about what you dreamed of before you developed a fear of failure (or success) and before other’s opinions tainted it will tell you a lot. Take a good hard look at the child you. Accept that part of yourself and learn from this experience. That child you has been influenced far less by the world and might hold important clues.
Learn to be alone. If you want to know who you really are take a break from all of the outside input. I mean ALL! That means disconnect the tech too. You aren’t going to get in touch with yourself watching The Real Housewives either (yes… this is my guilty pleasure too so no judgement). Now that you’re sitting here alone and likely painfully bored, what next?
Engage in an activity. Go outside, go for a walk or swim or bike ride. Lay in the grass. Think about what you loved to do when you were a child and do that. Try all of these and a few more. What do you like? Do any of these activities feel like a natural fit? What brings you happiness or discomfort.
Try not to worry about what other people think of what you are doing. If this is a preoccupying thought use it to discover something about yourself. Maybe this is a clue. Perhaps you perceive yourself as clumsy so it makes you self conscious. Are you really clumsy? What makes you think that? Maybe you’re more introverted and you’re uncomfortable feeling like you have an audience. If the presence of others is a distraction go somewhere less public to do this exercise. Just make sure you do it.
Try out several different activities and observe your emotions. The distraction of activity often brings emotional things to the surface. Things you may not have even realized before. So it’s important not to skip this part. Don’t judge the things that come up. They are neither good nor bad, they are simply informative. Take some notes on this experience in your journal. Make sure to jot down any questions that may have come up for you as well.
Take yourself out. Think about what comes up for you when you even consider going out alone. You might get anxious or excited about the prospect of this. Consider where those feelings come from. Remind yourself that everything you are doing right now is to help you find yourself with no regard for what others think. Just a heads up though… people either think nothing of you being alone or they think you are awesome and brave. So try to let it go.
Not sure what to do? Go get some lunch or coffee. Do you always order the same thing? Why? Head to a bookstore or museum. What books or exhibits are you drawn to? Wherever you go try to observe what your sensory experience is. Pay attention to the little things like the smells and sounds around you. Think about what aspects of this outing you would enjoy sharing with someone else. Who would you enjoy sharing it with and why?
Make a mind map
I think of a mind map as a type of brainstorming. What you do is write a word or prompt in the middle of a piece of paper then write everything you can think of related to that. Set a timer for 60 – 90 seconds and do it as fast as you can. The idea is to not really think about it and just to let ideas flow. Keep the subject specific. Some ideas to consider could be, “I am…”, “I like…”, “I’m grateful for…”.
Because of the time limitations and the lack of forethought that goes into a mind map you are likely to spill things there that you might otherwise have censored out. We are looking for you, uncensored, and this is a good way to give yourself the freedom to pour out. The key here is to not think about it. Something might be sitting funny with you related to your walk back in time. If so do a mind map to get to the bottom of it. If you’re feeling blocked coming up with answers or thoughts regarding a journal question this is a great way to get unblocked and get to the bottom of it. Sometimes we’re judging ourselves without even realizing it. Mind mapping can help you get around that.
Evaluate your values
People often think that they know what their values are but they rarely do. You might think being philanthropic for example is a value you have but honestly, do you? Is this a guiding principle in your life. Is it one of the most important things to you? Don’t get me wrong… it’s important and I think most people would be philanthropic if they had the money. If this is something you value though you would go without to make it happen. Think of your values as things you are willing to be inconvenienced for or even sacrifice for. They aren’t simply nice ideas or quotes on a calendar. They are the things that mean the most to you and the things that move you.
Follow your intuition
Most people have an intuitive sense of the values that are most meaningful to them. They are the traits that they are drawn to in others and the first things that come to mind when making a difficult decision. Often they are the characteristics that result in the most pride or disappointment.
We often disregard our intuition regarding our values because we judge ourselves. There aren’t right or wrong or good or bad values. You don’t have to share the same values as your family or friends. We often wish we had more lofty values or think we are a better person if we have certain values. This is all nonsense and it’s holding you back from living an authentic life.
Seek Professional Help
If you feel truly lost consider seeking professional help. A life coach or therapist might be worth looking into. It is possible that you can’t find your way back to yourself without the help of a professional.
This can be especially true if you are a trauma or abuse survivor. Don’t minimize how deeply impactful this can be to your psyche. If you consistently have to be compliant to stay safe you are likely to learn to lock your true self into a very secure vault. You might not know how to access it anymore. It is very important to get help to overcome your past and rediscover yourself.
This is also an avenue you might want to consider if time is pressing. If you are going through this exercise because you have a big life decision to make you might want to hire a life coach. If you just tend to be impatient and hard on yourself you might want to hire a professional so you don’t become frustrated with the process.
Having a guide and support can be very helpful during the process of self discovery. Don’t hesitate to enlist professional help if you feel it would be beneficial for you. It isn’t cheating.
Take a day to review all of your journal entries and mind maps. Consider recurrent themes. Feelings, ideas and concepts that come up again and again are likely indications of who you are deep down. These combined with your values and anything you may have uncovered in therapy or coaching create the foundation for who you are. This isn’t permanent though. If there is something you don’t like, change it. Don’t forget to be continually re-evaluating as you grow and change. Once you know who you are, you can make decisions, grow and create healthy relationships and boundaries.
Share your experience. Was there anything you found particularly helpful or difficult? What was it like for you to head out alone? What was the coolest or most surprising thing you learned about yourself?