You know that old phrase, “You are what you eat?” It usually is a reminder that what you take into your body has a direct impact on how well you feel. Eat junk, feel like junk. Eat healthy, feel healthy.
I could come up with a lot of examples of why this isn’t always true, but just for now let’s play with this idea. Let’s change it to, “You are what you love.” Your identity is created from the things you love to do. I don’t want to get into your love of people (that’s a complicated discussion) but let’s assume that what you love can refer to activities, moments, experiences, hobbies, jobs, and other things you spend your time on. The more you spend your time on a particular activity or hobby, the more you identify as the kind of person who does that.
For example, “You are what you love” might be someone who loves to play and watch baseball being a diehard baseball fan. What they love creates part of their identity. Another person may love rocks and crystals to the point that they become an avid rockhound. There is a direct line between what they love and who they are. It makes sense, right?
I really love to read. I always have. I’m just now coming off of a few overly-busy weeks and Friday decided it was time to do something nice for myself just to have fun and relax. I decided to pull out a much loved book and spend the evening in bed reading. It was blissful. It gave me time to relax and recover from my crazy schedule. It also connected me back to who I am: a reader of fantasy books. I am what I love.
But the opposite is true too. I can really love things but don’t spend any time or energy on them, which disconnects me from who I really am. About two years ago I discovered that I really love to swim. I was never much of a swimmer (although I had some fear of water I had to work through, so maybe that was hiding it). But once I got the urge to swim, I couldn’t let it go. I joined the YMCA and swam multiple times a week until Covid hit. Since then, swimming has been a rare treat for me. It makes me appreciate it when I can swim, but also makes me slightly irritable when I can’t. It’s something that often itches the back of my brain and I hate having to deny myself that enjoyment over and over again.
I’m not being a whiner, I’m just pointing out that if I never get to do that thing I love, then what happens to that part of my identity that can’t express itself? Is it hidden? Sleeping? Irritated? Lost? I have no idea.
I think this is the case with many people. I would guess that a lot of them love things but never actually take time to experience them. So their love, which should be creating who they are, gets re-routed to frustration, apathy, depression, or even anger. The development of who they are is short-circuited in small and large ways.
Someone who works 70 hours a week is probably not doing things they love because they don’t have time. They are trading parts of who they really are for someone who is outwardly successful but not fully expressing their true self. Even if they "love" their job, that job is not the entirety of who they are. Pieces are missing.
Someone else might be selflessly helping others, volunteering, taking care of their family, and working at the local church but not taking any time to do things they actually love. So while they may feel satisfied that they are fulfilling all their social and moral obligations, are they really living as their true self? Are they being who they think they should be rather than who they really are?
Much of what we do is actually a result of social conditioning, not necessarily innate desire. We work at our jobs, pay our taxes, buy birthday gifts, go to weddings, vote, do the laundry, take out our trash, and a lot more stuff that most of us don’t actually want to do. Although there are lots of good reasons for doing these things, most of them are simply a result of social expectation rather than love (or even interest). We don’t have to do the laundry. We could wear dirty clothes every day. Social mores, however, make laundry a necessity in our society (a social standard I am in favor of).
There are many other social mores, though, that we follow when we really don’t have to. People feel like they have to volunteer, go to church, coach their kids’ sports teams, put in extra time at work, go to the gym every day, or spend hours on the weekend manicuring their lawns because they think it is the right thing to do. How many of them, though, choose to do these things rather than spending time on the things they truly love? Maybe they never go to the rock gym because it doesn’t seem socially acceptable. Maybe they never travel to places they would love because they don’t think it is responsible. Maybe they give up wanting to be an artist or a writer or a landscape designer because it seems like a dream rather than a responsible life choice.
Social conditioning has told a whole lot of us to not be who we really are or to not experience the things that we really love. This means a whole lot of us are walking around not being our true selves.
I’ve written before about why I think it is really important that people do what they love because that is the only way to discover who they are supposed to be. The world needs every single one of us to express our fullest potential so that we can make a better world for everyone. Expressing our fullest potential only comes through finding our most authentic selves. So if we are what we love, but we aren’t experiencing what we love, then how can we possibly be our authentic selves?
Part of what I do on this blog and in my practice is help people get back in touch with their true selves. An important piece of this process is reconnecting with the things that bring them joy. First identifying those things (this is sometimes harder than you might imagine) and second actually finding time to experience those things. I often tell clients to try to carve out time every week to do something they love just for the sake of doing it. No one can express their authentic selves unless they take time to do what brings them joy. To go to that park. To help at that animal shelter. To take that class. To reconnect with that old friend.
Here’s what can make this process really challenging:
First, we’ve often left pieces of what we love WAY in the past. There may be things we'd really enjoy that we haven’t experienced since childhood. These things may have been pushed to the wayside because of (T)trauma, social conditioning, money, or other reasons. Whatever the case, these pieces of ourselves are long forgotten and may take some time to find again.
Second, sometimes what we love isn’t obvious or logical. I’ve already told you about my swimming obsession that came out of nowhere. It doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense to me, but it’s there and it won’t go away. I have a similar need to play the piano. I took piano lessons in middle and high school and then stopped. Partly because I wasn’t very good and partly because my piano teacher was always trying to force me to play Bach despite the fact that I hated his compositions. Fast forward to my mid-30s when I had a growing need to acquire a piano and start playing again. I borrowed a digital piano from a friend, worked long and hard to refresh old skills, and enjoyed myself immensely. When I moved out of that home I sent the piano back to the owner and have missed it constantly since then. None of this makes the slightest bit of sense. I’m not very good. I’m unlikely to ever play for anyone but myself. It’s quite a bit of work for me to sound mediocre and I don’t have any space for a piano right now. But guess what I’ve been doing this weekend? Yup. Looking around for a decent digital piano. No matter how illogical it is, it is a part of my true self trying to come out and I’m tired of telling her she can’t be a part of my life.
Third, sometimes what we love and who we are aren’t immediately accessible. I think that often our need to do or be something is one way we become aware of areas of our life that need healing. For example, I’ve always enjoyed traveling but during the period of my life when my food sensitivities were at their worst, it was really hard to do. I finally decided that I wanted to heal my food issues so I could freely travel and backpack. That was one of the things that really spurred me to actively pursue my healing in ways I had never considered before (read more about this story here). The need to express my true self became the impetus to heal the part of my life keeping that from me. I hear so many people say things like, “if only I could…” or, “I could never do that because….” What I think is really happening is that their true self is trying to come out but they don’t want to deal with the fear, (T)trauma, social constraint, past experience, financial situation, or limiting belief holding them back. No one said becoming the most authentic version of yourself would be easy. You will need to make some changes before you can be that person you are meant to be.
So let’s circle back to where we started. “You are what you love.” If you want to live as your authentic self, then you have to start spending time doing things that you love. You have to reach back into the past to recover things you have lost. You have to spend time trying things that are illogical or doing something with no other reason than you want to. You may even have to work on some healing before you can step into who you are supposed to be. It isn’t going to happen overnight and it isn’t always going to be easy, but it sure will be fun to find out who you really are, don’t you think? And it's never too late to start!
If you want to get started working with some of these ideas, here are some places you can begin now:
Plan time this week to do some things you love, just because you want to. Pick some things you haven’t done in a while. Notice how you feel as you do this.
Read this blog post I wrote about finding lost pieces of yourself hiding in your shadow: https://www.harmoniousrenewal.com/post/befriend-your-shadow
Katie De Jong has a good article on basic ways to start reconnecting with your authentic self. The Art Of Being Yourself: 5 Ways To Embrace Authenticity In Business And Life
Download the FindYourJoy.pdf (at the bottom of this blog post) to help you start thinking about things that bring you joy that will guide you toward your true self.
And always, contact me if you want to talk about anything or check out my website and see what I offer to help you find your most authentic self!