"To find yourself first learn about yourself." Finding the real you is an enlightening experience. You become self-sufficient and do things for yourself, for once. It's a hard feeling to put into words, but when you don't know who you are, it's hard to ignore. Finding yourself is not easy, but it's worth it. Ready? Let's begin.
Waking Your Conscious
- Create your own life timeline. Write down all of your major goals that you feel you have achieved and want to achieve. In turn, write down the events in your life that have already happened and that have shaped or affected you. When life brings problems or misfortunes it shapes our belief system and makes us think differently, but it also makes us us. These things you list are organically you, not a simple reflection of society.
- This isn't an exercise in wallowing. It's about clarification and identification of issues. These issues might be keeping you from reaching your present potential and letting your true self blossom.
- Spend a little time clarifying the past in your timeline. A timeline is an incredibly objective method for marking down past occurrences in your life that you consider to be major. You can look at them as formation blocks and as changing experiences along your timeline without imbuing them with too much emotion (as would occur within a diary account). As if writing a résumé, keep it simple, real, and condensed to the major effects or lessons learned from each past incident.
- When analyzing negative past experiences, focus on what you learned from them. Everyone has these blips in their timeline, but exaggerating or ignoring them won't help you. Instead, recognize that these experiences shaped you.
- Distinguish your thoughts from the thoughts of others. For most people (it's more common than you may think) life is pretty easy to go through while on autopilot; we practically get handed a road map for how reality "works." Go to school, get a job, get married, think this, that, and the other, and boom — hope you had a good time. And that's all well and good — it gets the job done certainly — but it doesn't allow room for you. So sit down with yourself. At the end of the timeline, come up with a few beliefs of yours that aren't based on logic, but are based on what you've been told. We all have them. Now, what do you actually think?
- Society has a very covert way of handing us the "misfits", condemning the "losers", idolizing the "beautiful", alienating the "strange." But here's a heads up: These describing words have no basis in reality. How do you feel about the world around you? Think about what you believe to be good and bad — not what anyone else has told you.
- Feel free to think more concretely. Do you actually agree with your parents' political or religious affiliations? Is having a career really the most important thing to you? Do thick, black glasses really make you feel "cooler?" If the answer is no, great! There's absolutely zero problems with not molding yourself to pre-existing norms. Now all you have to do is unlearn and then relearn. Only this time, relearn based on your gut.
- Start relying on yourself. Confidence and reliance are at the heart of finding yourself. If you don't have a solid sense of self-worth, you'll listen to what others have to say all the time and to be swayed by their insistence on what is appropriate. Learn to believe in yourself and trust your own feelings. Then, you'll come up with a structure to base your new sense of self on. Remember, be patient with yourself and confident in your abilities. Everything will come with time.
- If you have been victimized in the past, confront these issues. They're not going to go away on their own. They might be coloring your approach to daily life, causing you to live up to other people's expectations instead of your own.
- Start Make up Your Mind and decision-making processes, mistakes and all. We all make mistakes, but through mistakes we find ourselves growing, learning, and reaching our real selves.
- Start taking responsibility for budgeting, household matters, and planning about the future. People who lack a sense of self tend to disregard the "details" of life with a carefree attitude, believing that things will all sort themselves out. But things don't always sort themselves out. Taking responsibility pulls you back from the precipice and lets you be self-reliant and self-determined, no longer carried along by the waves of fate.
- Prepare to begin again with a clean slate. Develop your own moral conduct and practice sticking to it. Start by overcoming bad habits.
- Stop smoking, over-eating, and abusive drinking. These are examples of lapses or habits that will prevent you from functioning at your peak. They also let you "off the hook" by sidestepping the analysis of why you use these crutches instead of finding better ways to brighten your life.
- This step may take some major rehabilitation for some individuals but putting it into the too-hard basket won't make it go away. Remember, you can't drive your life forward if you are always gazing through your rear-view mirror!
- Organize your world. You may find that having all your other affairs in order will help expedite the process to grabbing a firm hold on your identity. So clean your room. Do your homework. Resolve that fight with that friend. Getting everything else out of the way will clear up the path to "me" time.
- We all have excuses for why we're not growing in the direction we want to be growing — it could be money, school, a job, a relationship, you name it, someone's used it. If you're a busy bee, take strides to clear your schedule so you can sit down and tackle this thing head on. If it's always priority #2, it'll never get done.
Conquering Your World
- Immerse yourself in solitude. Give yourself some time and space to get away from the expectations, the conversations, the noise, the media, and the pressure. Take some time each day to go for a long walk and think. Plant yourself on a park bench and look. Take a long, thoughtful road trip. Whatever you do, move away from anything that distracts you from contemplating your life and where you want it to go. In solitude, you should feel independent and self-sufficient, not lonely, needy or afraid.
- Every person needs time alone, whether they're introverted or extroverted, single or in a relationship, young or old. Solitude is time for rejuvenation and self-talk, for utter peace and for realizing that purposeful "loneliness" is not a bad place to be but rather, a liberating part of your overall existence.
- If you are a creative person, you may find that alone-time will help stoke your creativity. While it's nice to collaborate with other people sometimes, it's hard to be truly creative when you're always surrounded by other people. Step back and tap into your creativity.
- Seek out a passion. When you believe in something or see beauty in something, you should do it no matter what anyone else thinks. If you have found something that is worthy of your best efforts, sacrifice, and tears, then you have found the most important pursuit of your life. Often, that pursuit can lead you to something ultimately fulfilling.
- The key here is to realize that it doesn't matter what it is. It could be preventing child hunger or it could be painting. There is no scale when it comes to passion. You either feel it or you don't; none is better than any other. When you find something that zaps you out of bed in the morning, cling onto it. You'll only bloom from there.
- Find a mentor. Though ultimately soul-searching can only be done by you and it's only you that determines what you need, having a mentor will be an incredible resource when you hit those unavoidable bumps in the road. Seek out someone you trust who has a definite sense of self. How did they do it?
- Let them know the process you're starting to undertake. Stress that you know it's your journey, but would love to use their strength as a guide. Take a look at them as objectively as you can. What seems to ground them, making them who they are? How did they find that? How do they stay true to themselves?
- A support system is key to any self-improvement tactic. Not a lot of people will understand what you're going through and will brush off your broaching the topic as a flash-in-the-pan moodiness. Use this mentor as a sounding board, too, for what you come up against. The outlet will surely come in handy.
- Sort out your career path. If you're meandering all over the place looking for the right "fit", chances are that you're not happy inside. You could be using the job-changing as an excuse for not fully realizing your true potential. Find yourself by really taking an interest in what you love to do. If money weren't an issue, what would you spend your days doing? What way can you monetize this activity/skill?
- Spend some time free-associating. Think about what you like and don't like; think beyond those things to other ideas that simply pop into your mind while you're associating. Keep a record of these things. Then, come back to the career question and look at the free associations. What type of career seems to gel most with the things that excited, moved, and really energized you from the free-association exercise? As Alain de Botton says, this exercise is about looking for "beeps of joy" amid the cacophony of must-do's, shoulds, and expectations.
- Bear in mind, however, that work may not be where your "calling" is. If that's the case, you'll need to work out a work-life balance that lets you pursue your "true self" more outside of the workplace, even if this means more hours and less income. It is all possible, especially if it's in the pursuit of finding and sustaining your true sense of self.
Changing Your Perspective
- Let go of the need to be loved by all. Accept that some people will think poorly of you no matter what you do. It's important to forget about what everyone else thinks because you cannot please everyone. And while you might not want to disappoint the people close to you, they should want you to be happy. As long as you continue to exist just to fulfill other people's ideas of who you should be, you'll never know who you really are. This thought is aptly summed up by Raymond Hull: "He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away."
- Realize that some people will become jealous, afraid, or overwhelmed when a person changes their usual habits and grows more mature and self-loving (others will love it). It's a threat to the relationship you've always had, and it forces them to take a cold, hard look at themselves, which they may not want to do. Give these people space and compassion; they may come around in time. If they don't, leave them be. You don't need them to be you.
- Abandon the negative. Although it sounds abstract, it's not difficult. Make a conscious effort to minimize judging — others, objects, and yourself. This is for two reasons: 1) Positivity is nourishing and can usher in a sense of happiness which being "lost" masks, and 2) Opening your mind to new experiences and new people (that you previously wrote off) will show you a whole new world that may be better than the one you knew before — one where you can find your corner of the sky, your castle on a cloud, your niche in this crazy world.
- Try to do something every day that you would've brushed off as "weird," "illogical," or just plain "uncomfortable". Getting out of your zone will not only teach you something, but it will force you to get to know you — what you're capable of, what you like, what you definitely don't like, and what you were previously missing.
- Question yourself. Ask yourself difficult and far-reaching questions, and record your answers. Beyond your time spent in solitude, it's easy for these purposeful thoughts to slip to the back of your mind and be forgotten. If you have them written down, then every time you reflect, you can review your notes and take it a step further, instead of answering the same questions all over again. Keep them in a notebook that's easy to access and update; it will be a source of sustenance for you, by which you can continue to measure your growth through life. Here are some to get you started:
- "If I had all the resources in the world — if I didn't need to make money — what would I be doing with my life and why?" Perhaps you'd be painting, or writing, or farming, or exploring the Amazon rain forest. Don't hold back.
- "What do I want to look back on in my life and say that I never regretted?" Would you regret never having traveled abroad? Would you regret never having asked that person out, even if it meant risking rejection? Would you regret not spending enough time with your family when you could? Would you regret keeping your unique view of society to yourself by not sharing with friends? Did I conform/stick out beyond the level I'd have like to? This question can be really difficult.
- "If I had to choose three words to describe the kind of person I'd love to be, what would those words be?" Adventurous? Accepting towards few? Open? Honest? Hilarious? Optimistic? Unreliable? Don't be afraid to choose words that are considered negative because that proves you're a real person, and not a lopsided combination of parts other people want to be known for.
- Sometimes the traits that you don't like become useful in emergency situations — like being bossy. Sometimes they are valuable to the job you're meant to perform — like being nitpicky.
- If you do have a truly negative trait, acknowledging it openly can give you the motivation to work on redirecting that energy to something positive. Try channelling that bad habit and into a hobby. Don't wash your clothes much? Try camping — maybe you'll like it. Even something like pole dancing could be your golden ticket! Know you're lazy with certain tasks? Maybe you can lead yourself to find another task that hardly ever bores you.
- "Who am I?" This question is not static. It should be one you continue to ask yourself throughout your life. A healthy person continues to reinvent themselves throughout their life. By asking this question regularly, it updates your understanding of who you are and how you change. Instead of answering who you think you ought to be, keep it focused on who you actually are, because in all likelihood that's a very good answer, warts and all.
Settling In for Good
- Act upon — and use — your newly discovered knowledge. Pick up those watercolors. Write a short story. Plan a trip to Mombasa. Have dinner with a family member. Start cracking jokes. Open up. Tell the truth. Whatever it is that you've decided you want to be or do, start being and doing it now.
- You may shake your head and come up with excuses such as "no time," "no money," "family responsibilities," etc. Instead of using these as excuses, start planning around the hurdles in your life. You can free up time, find money, and get a break from duties if you make time how to plan and find the courage to ask for these things.
- Sometimes, the real you is too afraid to face the practicalities because it'd mean facing up to what you've limited yourself by. Start planning what you really want to do and investigating what needs to be done to get you to that point instead of flinging excuses at them, stopping the goals and dreams dead in their tracks.
- Be ready for dead ends. Finding yourself is a journey, not a destination. A lot of it is trial and error. That's the price you pay in return for the satisfaction you receive: More often than not, you hit a bump in the road, and sometimes you fall flat on your face. Be prepared to understand and accept that this is a part of the process, and commit to getting right back up and starting over.
- It's not going to be easy — it never has been for anybody — but if you learn to see that as a chance to prove how much you want to find yourself, then you'll find fulfillment and security in your pursuit. When you know yourself, most people will respect you more and treat you kindly. Best of all, your light will shine on both you and others, making them (and you) feel even more certain about your sense of self.
- Serve others. Mahatma Follow-Gandhi's--Principles once said that "the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." Being introspective without reaching out to others can cause you to navel-gaze and shut yourself off from others. Service to other people and to the community is the ultimate way to find purpose and a sense of your place in the world.
- When you see how hard life can be for those in greater need than you, it's often a wake-up call that puts your own worries, concerns, and issues into perspective. It helps you to see what you do have, and the opportunities you've been able to seize through life. That can fuel a great sense of self because suddenly everything can fall into place for you and you realize what matters most. Try it. You'll like it.
- On your journey you sometimes will need to cry. It's healthy to let it out.
- There is no set amount of time it will take. Be patient.
- Don't be afraid to sleep on it. There's no hurry in making decisions, and you'll be more likely to make good ones if your mind is calm and rested.
- There really is no right or wrong, so don't worry so much.
- Listen to and trust your inner voice!
- Although it's a cliché, the term "Be yourself" really does count when it comes to finding yourself. Make sure no one influences who you are; by all means listen to others and learn from them but let the final choices, decisions, and acceptances be your own. If you simply capitulate to what others think, it will make finding yourself even harder since people are influencing who you think you are.
- Step out of your comfort zone sometimes. Take note of how you adjust outside of your comfort zone and you will notice things about yourself you never did before.
- Resist the urge to feel like you're the only one going through this. In Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison once summed this up well: All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself.
- Be forgiving in the hope that others may forgive you.
- Be the best that you can be. Being yourself is the best you can be. Know that.
- You know you're close when you are relaxed with or immersed in something. Sometimes there are no aha moments.
- Try not to judge yourself when you don't see positive results immediately. Persistence is key especially when things start to feel difficult.
- Remember, always love yourself more than anybody else.
- Be true to yourself and don't let others change you.
- Find joy in helping others!
- Don't let others tell you what to do, you can have your own life!
- Follow your heart and don't let people tell you who you are or are not.
- Don't let others determine who you are or what you do in life. It's your life not theirs. Your opinion is the only one that really matters in the end anyway.
- Even though you should follow your own path, a part of respect is listening to what others have to say. Everyone deserves to have their opinion heard. You wouldn't want someone to ignore you when you have their best interest at heart, would you?
- Don' focus on dating someone when you have not found yourself yet.
- Remember you are always good enough. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
- Don't spread bad gossip or otherwise speak ill about other people. Knocking others down is not the path to self-knowledge. It only compromises your dignity as a human being and makes others dislike you.
- Don't lie to yourself and try to be someone you are not. Remember this is about being yourself. As it is important to not let family members decide, it is also important not to let society and the media push you in a certain direction, especially when it comes to your physical appearance.
- Do not let others decide for you what you are destined to do. Their path may not be the correct path for you. What works for one person may not work for the next.
- Don't over-analyze everything! There is no right or wrong. If you're trying, you're doing it right.
- Don't let yourself get caught up in a habit of constantly changing who you are or how you act just to fit in.
- Find True Beauty
Sources and Citations
- Alain de Botton, "Now What Do I Do with All This You-Ness?" p. 115, in The Oprah Magazine, "Love Yourself, " (2010), ISBN 0-8487-3365-7