Plato wondered about it. So did Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. Most likely, your friends and neighbors think about it as much as you do, even if you have never discussed it. It is the eternal question, the one that has kept generation after generation staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night. Who am I? This whopper is a far throw from an easily solved puzzle. Throughout the course of history, the world’s greatest philosophers have found themselves grasping for words when questioned about identity. Through the ages, humans have wondered how to find who out about their own character. The process to finding your identity is not as easy as looking in the mirror and saying, “Hey, that’s me!” The process can be difficult, and even painful. However, finding one’s own true self can help in many ways. Self discovery can lead to a greater understanding of life, the world around you, and the unique being named “you”. By learning about yourself, it becomes possible to look at where you fit in the world, examine where you have been in the past, and decide upon where you want to go in the months, days, and years ahead of you. Identifying your identity can help to fortify the foundations of your belief systems. Finding out who you are can aid in questioning opinions, whether they concern introspective concerns or attitudes about the world around you. There are endless benefits to studying the self, from the personal to the professional and from the abstract to the tangible. Best of all, your journey to self discovery can start today.
Conquer Your Fears
Perhaps one of the most detrimental blocks in the quest for identity is the initial fear of searching for yourself. This fear of awareness of self stems from very real roots. What if you discover that you are not who you thought you were? What if you find something out about yourself that you don’t like? What if finding your identity makes you hate yourself? It is thinking like this, however, that can yield damaging results. Consider the risks of self discovery versus the risks of never truly knowing yourself. Discovering the self can hold risks, it would be deceit to say that it does not. It is quite possible that the examination of a personality’s garden can lead to a bountiful harvest of flaws. However, it is probable that the garnering of awareness about positive traits will far outweigh any personal blemishes. Knowledge about flaws can lead to acceptance or a willingness to change. On the other hand, the refusal to examine your life might end in uncertainty about stances on issues and blindness to weak points in character. The advantages of exploring who you are wipe away any ill effects achieved, making the journey well worth the small drawbacks involved.
Getting Started: An Interview with Yourself
Although the concept might seem to fall into the realm of silliness, questioning yourself about your identity can be one of the best ways to discover your personality. Think about when you meet someone new. How do you get to know them? You ask questions, of course. You ask about a person’s occupation, their family, their hobbies. Begin a personal inventory about who you are. Write down your answers to the following questions:
- What do I do for a living? Do I like my work? Why or why not?
- Where am I from? What role does my hometown play in my life?
- What is my family like? How am I like other people in my family? How am I different?
- What activities do I enjoy doing?
- What do I mean to the people around me?
- Where is my favorite place in the world? What have I experienced while I was there?
- What do I dream of doing?
- What three words would I use to describe myself?
- What have I achieved in my life so far?
- What do I like about myself?
- What do I think of my physical appearance?
- What is most important to me?
- How do others see me? What are the good things they see in me? What do others wish I would improve?
- What were my goals in the past? Have I achieved these goals? Do I still want to?
- What kind of people are my friends? Do I share any qualities with my friends? Are these qualities that I admire?
- Where do I see myself in five years? In ten years? In twenty?
- What do I want most?
- What did I want when I was younger? Have these dreams changed? Why?
- If I could go back and erase one mistake, what would it be?
- What do I miss?
- What kind of person would my opposite be? What would I like or dislike about this person?
- What would I do if the ramifications were of no consequence?
- Am I happy? If not, why not?
- What makes me happiest?
- What do I look for in a significant other? Do I look for these qualities in myself? Have I found them?
- What do I most strongly believe in? Why? What influenced my decision to believe in my convictions?
- If I won the lottery today, what would I change in my life? What would I do and where would I go?
- Who do I want to be?
The above list is by no means comprehensive and is meant to be used as a springboard for more specific questions. People have unique concerns, and will find which of the above are most applicable to their lives. Writing answers down is a key move in this exercise. Pausing to write gives time for introspection and forces thoughts to become real, concrete. Do not hold back. This is not the time for censorship. You don’t have to show anyone your answers, as this exercise is designed to help you and nobody else.
What will you discover? In the process of writing this article, I decided to get some real world research and take my own survey. The answers that I ended up finding out surprised me. Although I am a die-hard fan of the single life, my pen stopped when I realized that under the category of things I missed, I had written “being in a relationship”. I also know that if there where no consequences, and if money were of no importance, I would take off traveling and become a full time writer on the sandy beaches of Mexico, the cold tundra of northern Canada, the ruins of Rome, and the savannas of Africa. I don’t normally think about these topics on a daily basis, so it is no wonder that my reflections surprise me. The results of this test can be both shocking and life affirming. You may find that this starting exercise is a great way to see a summary of your traits and beliefs.
Find Out Who You are Not
Now that you have the most basic idea of who you are, another exercise will help you to determine who you are not. Ask yourself how you differ from those around you. What is unusual about you? Do you have any unique quirks or talents? What sets you apart from other people that you know? How do you express yourself? What experiences do you have that few others can claim? What skills do you have that are rare? This line of questioning can be almost as effective as the positive questions above. By circling around yourself with the things you are not, you can narrow down an idea of who you are and who you can become. It is like throwing darts. Although you may not hit the bullseye right away, the closer you get, the better you feel about knowing where to throw the next time. Using who you are not can be an effective tool of self discovery. Even the talents that you lack can be informative. Maybe you would like to be an artist, but lack the natural talent necessary to produce fine artwork. This does not mean that you can never be an artist. It just means that it might be in your best interest to take an art class. Maybe you are very glad that you are more thrifty than your friends. Your deal finding abilities could compensate for the fact that your job does not provide as much of a profit. Take pride in your individuality. Finding out who you aren’t can be useful in fostering a sense of self awareness and self confidence.
Ask a Friend
Although introspection is an excellent way of finding your identity, this method has its limits. At a certain point, it becomes extremely difficult to see how you look to the outside world. Asking others who you are to them can help you to determine your public image. This is the difference between looking at a mirror with a single sheet of glass and looking in a three-way mirror. It becomes possible to see much more with a friend than can be seen alone. It is important to pick your judges carefully. You might want to choose close friends to evaluate you. It is best to choose those people who will be the most honest without being overly critical. Ask your friends what they like about you, what they they your strengths are, and what they think you can improve upon. Ask them to describe you in three words. If they could tell you something that they don’t think you know about yourself, what would it be? Then, compare what your friends say about you to what you think about yourself. Find similarities between the answers. These are the strong attributes of your personality. Find the areas in which you are overly critical of yourself, and those flaws that you have overlooked. A side by side comparison of your opinions and those of others can bring you closer to a more realistic idea about your identity.
Where You Stand
Beyond your personal opinions of yourself, it can help to appraise your stance on important and controversial issues. Where do you stand politically? Are you a conservative? A liberal? Somewhere in between? Are you pro-choice, or pro-life? Do you believe that a certain group of people is better than another? Why? Do you hold prejudice against yourself if you do not belong to this group? What are your beliefs about religion and the afterlife, and how you fit in with these things? Do you want children? Do you want the comfort of marriage, or the freedom of single life? What is more important, love or money?There is no right answer to these questions, and even if you can’t find an answer or decide on one side definitively, you are still finding out something new about yourself. It may even help to put yourself in “would you rather” situations. Would you rather have all the knowledge in the world, or stay as you are? Would you rather have a large, expensive home, or a small, affordable one? This skill can cross over into everyday life. Would you rather work for company A or company B? Would you rather move away after school or stay close to your family? Asking yourself where you’re coming from on matters that you don’t normally think about in depth can help in determining your identity.
The Johari Window
The Johari window is an older technique, developed in the 1950’s by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. However, the relevance and effectiveness of the tool has resulted in continued usage by many professional organizations. The Johari Window, based in cognitive psychology, is a diagram that helps us to understand the way that we communicate as well as allowing for personal exploration. The “window” comprises four panes which are indicative of the different selves inherent in our lives. It is set up like this:
|Known to Self||Unknown to Self|
|Known to Others|
|Unknown to Others|
The top left window, located at the intersection of known to others and known to self, is the “open self”. The open self includes all public information about you: your name, approximate age, appearance, wants, needs, and occupation. Like all categories, this changes when the “other” group changes. Consider the level of acquaintance as window cleaner. The closer we get to another person, the more clear the image in the window becomes. The second pane, in the top right of the window, is the place for things unknown to the self, but known to others. This, the “blind” self, could include the fact that I don’t notice that my eyebrow twitches when I’m nervous, a fact that causes much hilarity among my friends. This is where the friend interview comes in handy. The third pane, on the bottom left, is known as the “hidden” self, the place where secrets live. Divulging information in the hidden quadrant can improve communication. However, it is important to take caution in making secrets public. In the last pane, which contains the “unknown” self may be the most interesting quadrant. The unknown quadrant is the product of self discovery. Consider this hypothetical situation: you have never ice skated. You are terrified of falling, and have never stepped bladed foot on the ice. But the very first time you go ice skating, you discover that you do not fall at all and that you have perfect balance. This is why trying new experiences is important in the context of finding you identity. Try something new every day to expand the scope of your life experience, and thus, your personality.
Look at the “Why”
It is important to look at the reasons behind why you do the things you do, why you believe in what you believe in, and why you want what you want out of life. If you have a problem with intimacy, with letting other get closer to you, inspect the reasons why you’re having trouble. Have you been hurt in the past? Are you afraid to let people into your life for fear of being damaged again? This could impede progress in your personal relationships. Are you having problems dealing with stress at work? Maybe you don’t enjoy your job as much as you would like. Singling out those things which cause undue anxiety can improve your overall performance. Often, knowledge is enough to begin a metamorphosis to a better you.
Remember that “Me” is NOT a Concrete Concept
There is always room to change. Even if you discovered that there are many things which you do not like about yourself, at least now you know! Work on areas that need extra attention. If you talk over people in a conversation, focus on listening skills. If you have a hard time saying no, think of creative ways to refuse extra commitment when you have stacks of work to do already. If you find yourself refusing to ask for help, stop and think when a task has become too large. Start putting more effort in to areas where you already feel comfortable. Push the boundaries that hold you in your current situation. Bring out the positives in your personality. If you are regarded as humorous, use humor in your everyday life. If people find that you are compassionate, consider a career that allows care taking possibilities. Your talents may even lead to new opportunities. If you are a great public speaker, try acting in a community production! You might find that you enjoy activities related to your strengths. The best thing about meeting yourself is that there are endless possibilities. The self is a vast ocean. You can be a sailboat, skimming the surface, drifting over the rough patches. Or you can be a submarine, submerged in the experience, constantly looking for new discoveries, forever checking out possibilities on the horizon.
What to do with your Knowledge
Now that you’ve started to figure out who you are, what is the next step? Creating goals for the future might be the best place to start. Make a “bucket list”, a list of things you’d like to achieve over the course of your lifetime. These can be ordinary goals like “own my own home”, “start a family”, or “get a promotion”. They could also be off the wall dreams like “meet the lead singer of (insert really cool indie band here)”, “learn how to kite board”, “play guitar on stage” or “ride the world’s tallest roller coaster”. No goal is too silly or too hard to reach. After all, you know who you are, what you want, and what you are capable of achieving. Believe in yourself.
A Final Word
There is no substitute to knowing yourself. So often, we get wrapped up in worries about the world around us and forget to take care of ourselves. By focusing a little effort on self improvement, many people find that they lead more successful and productive lives. Individuality is a human right that we should take to its fullest advantage. Self-confidence is reflected in the personal and professional arenas alike. As humans, we like people who appear stable in their convictions. We are all drawn to a person who can speak their mind in a eloquent and productive manner. We like others who like themselves. Self knowledge is the first step to improving self esteem. Many who attempt to find the answer to the timeless question, “Who am I really?” find great joy in the answers. You are a culmination of your private opinions, the views of the people you come into contact, your unique background, and your hopes and dreams for the future. Maybe, after finding out who you really are, you can rise above studying the cracks on your ceiling and get to dreaming a little earlier. With that kind of security, why not start finding yourself today?