Are you constantly trying to find yourself? Here’s how I’m breaking through
I wasn’t one of those kids with a strong commandeering personality as a child: the kids who seized what they wanted or could say ‘no’ to someone without a flicker of remorse or moment of doubt; the type who led the pack with just a few words or a finger snap.
I had a bubbly and adorable spirit, which was (and is) often confused for a strong personality. However, beneath my carefree persona was an incredibly confused and insecure individual. I was the type to constantly apologize for any and everything and was easily a doormat. I was chided at home for being forgetful and for constantly day dreaming.
I was also a shape-shifter, who assumed the qualities of the people in my immediate environment. Every aspect of my personality was changeable: from the way I wrote, walked and talked, to the way I wore my clothes and hair. As a result, “who I was” was not clear-cut and concrete. Being mutable also meant that I could not easily understand what I uniquely bring into the world.
Unfortunately, many of these traits and habits have persisted into my teenage and adult life. However, they are no longer all-consuming as they were when I was a child. The difference now is that I am more self-reflective and selective of what I will incorporate into my persona, and I know that this experience is not unique to me. My self-reflection has led to some insights that I believe might be helpful to others who are natural social chameleons.
Finding yourself, or getting to know yourself better, matters. It could be the difference between a job promotion or stagnation, successful or failed relationship and satisfying or subpar life. My ability to self-psychoanalyze means that I’m better able to understand why I am acting a certain way at any given time and shape my future behavior to align more with my goals. The process of acting and self-reflecting, sometimes in real time, is how I’m learning who I am and how to be my best self.
Getting to know yourself better does not necessarily have to occur when you’re home right before you sleep or just after you wake up, as many self-help books would like you to believe. It can happen in real time, in the middle of a conversation. For example, one time I was having dinner with a friend in college and he asked me if I found one of our classmates attractive. I told him the individual was too heavy to be my type, to which he responded (paraphrased), ‘I didn’t think you were the type to judge someone based on their physical characteristics.’ His statement surprised me. It immediately told me how I projected myself in the world and how I am consequently perceived. For as long as I can remember, I have always been perceived as innocent, inviting and open. While that might have changed over the last few years, I knew in that moment that my friend was speaking to a certain quality buried somewhere in me, and my job was to dig deep and bring it out.
I do not believe that we become new persons as we grow older and mature, but instead, we grow into our true selves, into who we really are at our core. We are born with everything that we are, and will need in this life. Therefore, growing up and maturing is about unearthing and cultivating the individual buried deep within us, and allowing him to breathe, live and be.
I took the insight from my conversation with my friend as a lesson that I needed to incorporate into my growth and development. Now when similar situations arise, I am open, take note and incorporate the lesson I am learning into my life. I have learned to be a student of my own life and being.
Studying the people whom I admire and the qualities that I admire about them is also another way I am learning who I truly am. The people we look up to and the qualities we like about them, tell us about our own value system and who we are. When you find yourself admiring someone, ask yourself what you value about that person and how you can cultivate that same quality in your life.
Throwing myself into new situations is another route to self-discovery I have recently found. When I started traveling more, meeting new people, trying new things and gaining new experiences, I discovered new elements of myself. My responses to the experiences, viewpoints and stories people shared illuminated my value system and where I stand on certain issues. Perhaps the biggest gain was learning to revise my old value system because once you leave your bubble and go out into the world, you quickly realize that there are multiple approaches to living life and no approach is necessarily better than another. Most importantly, when you travel, you quickly realize that we are all the same and that, fundamentally, we’re all looking for connection and a sense of belonging.
The latest strategy I’m using to know more about myself is role-playing. Sometimes, I like to imagine a possible scenario, like fighting with my housemate for example. In the first imagined scenario, I respond negatively to the altercation. I then ask myself ‘would I really do that? is that what I stand for?’ Most of the time the answer is ‘no.’ Then, I imagine how I would prefer to react if a similar situation arose in real life. By reflecting on these imagined scenarios, I learn more about myself, and most importantly, what I value and stand for.
There is a myriad of ways to self-discovery. These are but a few that I have discovered so far in my own journey and have used to learn more about myself and who I am. As I continue to find other strategies for other lost souls out there, I will share. What are some of the ways you have used to come to understand yourself better?