How well do you actually know yourself?
I’m being serious. Do you really know who you are?
I’m asking because so many people I talk to don’t actually know who they are. They might know what they do for a living, who their family is, or even what they like to eat. But they often have no idea who they are at a soul level. Why are they here? What are they supposed to be doing? What are they supposed to be learning in this life? What are their passions and goals? Most people just wander through their days keeping up with what they think they want and what they think they should be doing. Is that you?
You don’t do this intentionally. You’re just doing what you were taught to do. In fact, the first 20 years of life are mostly dedicated to learning to be what someone else thinks you should be. Society uses social structures to teach us important things about surviving in the world, getting along with others, taking care of families, having fun, being successful, and more. The problem is that these social structures often also teach people about how to think about themselves. How to dress, how to act, how to earn money, what kinds of jobs to want, what kinds of spouses to attract, how men behave, how successful women are allowed to be, which races get privileges and which do not, what you are supposed to do with your time and money, how you should feel about the afterlife, and which movies, books, music, and podcasts to consume. Every single day is a steady stream of social information telling you who you are and how you should behave.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this. It is the way human groups have always functioned. You get a basic blueprint for who to be that gets you started. It’s just that these societal structures are supposed to be the identity you use to start exploring who you are, not the identity you are supposed to live with forever. At some point, you need to take that foundation you’ve been given and step out on your own. You have to start exploring who you really are and dumping the pieces of who you thought you should be that don’t fit (and some of them really don’t fit at all). No social group can do that for you. It is only through self-discovery that the real you can come to light.
What it is important to note is that you aren’t in the business of creating a new identity. You also aren’t going to go searching the world to find an identity you lost. You are going to be going inside and uncovering the identity you have forgotten. You are going to search for the memories of things that brought you joy and excitement. For moments of peace and belonging. For times when the real you was denied and pushed aside. Your true identity is inside. You just need time and patience to coax it out of hiding. You need to remember who you are behind the identity society has handed to you.
This phase of self-discovery can be triggered by life events such as midlife, retirement, a breakup of a long-term relationship, or the loss of a job. For many of us (myself included) just being stuck physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally can be a catalyst for a deeper connection with yourself. This desire to turn inward to find who you really are can happen at any time of life. If you’ve hit the point where you are ready to start exploring, here are a few tips for you:
Be open, be brave: If you really want to remember who you are, you are going to have to open yourself up to new experiences, ideas, people, emotions, and more. If the identity you’ve been given by your social structures don’t fit, then finding yourself is going to require stepping outside the box of those social structures. That can be intimidating and frightening. Be open to bravely exploring new ways of viewing yourself and the world.
Deconstruct without anger: Remembering who you are will likely require some deconstruction of who you were taught to be. You will look back and wonder why some person or group told you something that was obviously unhelpful, false, or obstructive. It’s healthy to recognize this and work through it. If you get angry at the messages you were given, that isn’t wrong. Just try not to live in that anger. Don’t let it consume you. Acknowledge that the people/groups giving you that message were doing their best with what they thought was good for you. If you choose to throw that message about yourself out, then throw the anger out with it and move on.
Don’t just switch the channel: Sometimes people start searching for who they really are but what they end up doing is just switching to a new social group/identity that they like better. This new social group/identity is still telling you who you are, you just happen to like their messages over what you grew up with. You might switch your identity to be a vegan, or a Methodist, or a crossfit-er, or anything else. Taking on the identity of another group just changes who gets to tell you who to be. This is not the same as actually figuring out who you are. Remembering who you are is learning about your purpose, your passions, your joys, your goals, and your needs. None of this can be contained by a social group/identity. Switching the channel to a new ready-made identity is easy, but it won’t actually help you take the full step toward self-discovery. Your true self might be comfortable with some pieces of that group’s identity, but it cannot encompass all of who you are.
Explore: There are so many ways to get in touch with who you are. If you really want to find yourself, you are going to have to spend some time exploring. If you try something and it doesn’t work for you, then dump it and move on to something new. The format of your exploration isn’t important, the discovery is. Take time to explore as often as you can. Every day, if possible!
So, are you ready to begin remembering who you really are? If so, here are some suggestions. Take what works for you and get started. Feel free to jump out on your own and find new ways to explore. Talk to people as often as you can about your journey. Do some crazy things and see what happens. Make the conscious intention to remember who you are, and the people, places, and things you need to support your journey will show up.
Here are some random ideas to get you started:
Take some personality tests like the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, True Colours, etc.
Some books that got me started:
Finding your own North Star Martha Beck
Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss
Joy Seeker by Shannon Kaiser
You are a Badass by Jen Sincero
Journal your memories, joys, goals, forgotten passions, etc.
Have someone interview you (Seriously, people can ask great questions you never would have thought to ask yourself!)
Make a bucket list
Find/rediscover things that bring you joy
Write yourself a letter. What do you wish you could tell your 20-year-old self? What words of wisdom do you have about who you really are? What pitfalls will you tell your younger self to watch out for?
Sign up for a class/workshop to try something you always wanted to learn
This is just a tiny sample of what you could possibly do. The journey to self-discovery is long and twisty, but full of joy and healing. It’s time to remember who you are. It is time to start living your purpose in this world. Pick something above and get started today!