Find Yourself, Discover Your Purpose

The “Why” of our selves is every bit as important as the “Who”.

In The Art of War Sun Tzu said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The need for self-knowledge is so old that it’s actually inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi a building that’s almost two and half thousand years old. For good reason. At the core of it stands awareness which guides personal perception and shapes intent.

“When it comes to reaching our goals it’s Passion that drives us, Purpose that sustains us and Persistence that gets us there.”

The Romans called this sense of self and awareness “gravitas” and prized it in their leaders. They felt that it gave a person a sense of rock-solid foundation in who he or she was and they could therefore be relied upon to make better decisions because they were unlikely to be rattled by outside events. This is the reason why they considered it to be one of the four virtues alongside piety, dignity and courage.

In more words: without knowing who we are we cannot know what’s important to us, what values we hold dear, what lines we cannot cross. Without a deep sense of values we can’t decide what we want. Without deciding what we really want, we cannot have a sense of direction. Without a sense of direction there is no goal or purpose to our life. Without goals or purpose who we are, our sense of self, is subject to external forces instead of internal ones. We then become fragile, volatile, easily moved by the crowds, subject to the whims of the world and the vagaries of circumstances.

It’s Passion that drives us, Purpose that sustains us and Persistence that gets us there.

The reason self-awareness is so important in our decision-making is because it impacts, directly upon purpose and purpose is one of the 3Ps that drive our success in any venture. The other two being Passion and Persistence.

When it comes to reaching our goals it’s Passion that drives us, Purpose that sustains us and Persistence that gets us there.

Without purpose passion becomes aimless and persistence becomes hard to sustain. So purpose, really, is what we are all about. And that comes from knowing not just who we really are but also why we are.

Constructing the Self

So, what are we really? No one is born with a mission in life and no one has some kind of hardwired programming that drives them. This then suggests that the “why” of us is contextual. It is born out of experiences and knowledge, memory and comprehension. Neuroscientific studies using patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease suggest that self-knowledge is the product of multiple, interacting systems involving both general and self-specific memory as well as different systems of memory for one’s past history of specific events (episodic memory) and for summary information not tethered to particular episodes from one’s life (semantic memory).

It is through awareness of the context of our self that we find purpose which then allows us to anchor our identity in the world and decide that our existence has meaning.

“An identity is very much a tool for connecting with other people.”

This is a central tenet of the Existential-Humanistic perspective that places the individual’s journey to self-discovery at the very heart of the discovery of purpose and meaning which then affect elements such as self-regard, mental resilience and the ability to not be cowered by even the most insurmountable odds.

Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps of WW II, makes it abundantly clear that a person’s discovery of meaning for their life allowed them to have hope and this helped them to be resilient.

Social psychologist Roy Baumeister has famously said that “An identity is very much a tool for connecting with other people. It’s what our species evolved to do.”

In making yourself into who you are, tread carefully. Make the right decisions. Understand that every choice is a decision in itself and each decision is both taking you towards a place and building who you are. Make sure the construct of your self is something you can be proud of and the place where you end up is, indeed, where you needed to go.

My latest book: The Sniper Mind: Eliminate Fear, Deal with Uncertainty, and Make Better Decisions is a neuroscientific study into how to apply practical steps for better decision making.