How you really “find yourself” (Hint: It’s not that feel-good garbage you’ve read elsewhere)

The other day, my wife and I watched Sabrina, the story of a chauffeur’s daughter who “finds herself” in Paris, then comes home and wins the heart of Linus Larabee, her father’s ruthless billionaire employer who decides that he too needs to take an extended trip to Paris to learn about those things in life that are more important than money.

When Sabrina describes her time in Paris to Linus, she tells him about a 4-mile walk along the River Seine and says that one finds their favorite bridge, and goes there with their coffee and journal every morning and listens to the river.

Finding ones self standing on a bridge in Paris certainly sounds like a very romantic experience, except for the fact that it is a load of garbage.

Don’t get me wrong. Sabrina is a well-done movie, and Paris is a beautiful city. Daily reflection is also an important part of the process of self discovery. However truly “finding yourself” also requires doing hard things and seeking feedback. Only then will the reflection truly lead to self discovery.

Doing hard things

In the movie, Sabrina goes to Paris not on an extended vacation or “gap year”; instead, she goes to work for a top fashion company. It is clear that she is in over her head at the beginning, but in the process she realizes that she has a knack for photography, and her confidence increases the longer she is in Paris.

Similarly, the most formative moments of my life have been when I was doing something hard because growth cannot happen in one’s comfort zone. Doing things outside of your comfort zone can help you answer two questions:

  • Do I do this well?
  • Do I enjoy doing this?

This gives us four possible outcomes:

  • I don’t do it well, and I don’t enjoy doing it. Great news! You just learned something important about yourself. Now you can avoid this activity with confidence knowing that it just isn’t the work for you.
  • I don’t do it well, but I enjoy doing it. How great it is to find something you love to do! This will most likely be a good hobby for you.
  • I do it well, but I don’t enjoy it. Good to know! Doing something well can mean you have opportunities to make money. Of course this isn’t your ideal career path, but don’t shy away from it too much. It can open doors for you to do what you really want to do.
  • I do it well, and I enjoy it. Fantastic! You’ve found something that can serve as a successful, enjoyable career for you.

Seeking feedback

Also in the movie, Sabrina has friends and mentors in Paris who give her advice and feedback. This advice and feedback reassured her and helped her make good decisions in times of doubt.

Friends and mentors can not only help you with confidence, but they can also help you see things about yourself that you might not be able to see on your own. As I wrote last week, this feedback can help you discover strengths that you never knew existed.


After doing hard things and seeking feedback, reflection can help you put the pieces together and know more about yourself. This reflection can take many forms including:

  • Visiting a scenic location
  • Writing in a journal
  • Prayer
  • Meditation

Any of these reflection methods will help you step out of your busy day and allow your brain to think deeply, which is essential for discovery.

Self discovery can play a huge role in your success and happiness (professional or otherwise). The great news is that it doesn’t necessarily require an expensive, drawn-out trip abroad (although adjusting to a new culture can certainly be that “hard thing” you are looking for). Instead, focus more on process than you do on the location, and you will be on your way to truly “knowing yourself.”

This article was originally published on the Straight Course Learning Blog. At Straight Course Learning, we help students and companies adapt to the new economic system with career and entrepreneurship training. Visit our bookstore or class page to learn more.

Want to learn more about this topic? I suggest reading The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. The authors are successful entrepreneurs and they outline how individuals can use entrepreneurial concepts like continuous beta and finding the right balance of competency, opportunity, and passion to chart a meaningful and successful career path.