‘Finding yourself’—it’s a phrase that has been often repeated for the past half-century or so. The concept of finding yourself, though not necessarily born in the 1970s, certainly had a ubiquitous ascension during this decade, probably mostly since young people had just come out of a period of significant establishment rebellion. However, regardless of when it was born or when its popularity grew, the idea of finding yourself has had a resurgence in recent years. And whatever the reason for its comeback, getting on the path of how to find your true self is most definitely a journey worth taking.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” – Aristotle
Finding out who you are takes time, it takes an inquisitive nature, and it takes near constant exploration. And when you get to the end of that journey, if there is, indeed, an ‘end,’ your knowledge of your true identity will have made your quest wholly worthwhile. It will be an awakening whose completion will be well worth the wait, wonder, and work you put into it. Finding out who you are can be a journey that takes years, but it doesn’t have to be an abstract concept, and there are concrete actions you can take that will help you find out who you are, where you want to go and be in life, and how to get there more quickly in order to begin living the life you want—and being the person you want to be—before too much of that life has slipped by.
Following are seven solid steps on how to find yourself you can take to figure out who you are, how you fit into the world (or at least your world), and where to go from here.
1) Know your present
One of the major reasons people say they need to ‘find themselves’ is because they feel lost. This sense of feeling lost can happen at any time in a person’s life, but the most significant occurrences of lost feelings can come when someone has experienced a substantial change in their lives.
Have you experienced a significant change in your life recently? Maybe some sort of grief? Major changes can include several events, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce or other relationship break-ups, significant financial difficulty, or even a positive change such as getting married, buying a house, or having a baby. These experiences are among life’s major events.
The reason this step comes first, and the reason for including it at all, is that with these big changes can come big feelings of uncertainty. You may already have figured out much about who you are, but you might just be feeling uncertain about things because of your circumstances. Or perhaps you do still need to find yourself, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find out who you are without finding ways to deal with the stress of life’s major events, whether they’re negative or positive. In either case, the first thing you need to do is to learn how to cope with the stress that accompanies a major life change. The website of Psychology Today can help you sort out your feelings, relieve some stress, and move ahead to find your true self.
2) Know your past
Knowing where you came from can help you figure out how you got where you are right now. And knowing how you got here can help you figure out who you are, where you want to go, and how to get there.
Write down a list of life events you believe have shaped your feelings and beliefs about yourself. In this step, include both positive and negative things that have happened to you. Your past experiences have helped to shape who you are now—while writing this list, it’s very likely you’ll learn some things about yourself you didn’t know before. Be honest and be prepared to get a little teary here. However, try not to delve too deeply into an emotional event. Simply list major occurrences and move on.
This step can also help you to discover your own code of moral conduct. The things you’ve experienced that were done to you by others can help you to learn which behaviors you believe are proper and which behaviors you think are wrong. Learning about your personal moral code of values and ethics will help you to find yourself, and it will help you to become the person you want to be.
3) Soundproof your brain
Next, you’ll need to learn how to distinguish your own beliefs from those of other people. Spend some time in solitude to block out the noise you hear in your head that could be keeping you from learning about who you really are.
For instance, if you suffered abuse from peers or adults when you were a child, you may be hearing negative voices in your head, telling you lies about yourself. If you continue to allow these negative thoughts to seep into your consciousness—and therefore your subconscious (which can be even louder than your conscious)—you may never learn about your authentic self, and this can also lead to an inability to achieve your goals. In other words, you can get stuck.
Society, too, can have a way of undermining our authentic selves. We’re constantly bombarded via the pop culture around us about winners and losers and who fits into which category. Blocking out all that claptrap is a critical—and significant step forward—in finding yourself.
Something very helpful in this step of solitude is to spend time alone in nature. Take walks through a forest or in the woods; go swimming in a pool or lake alone; or even take a picnic lunch to a field, listening to birds sing and watching them fly. Nature has a way of rejuvenating your spirit, especially if you spend time alone in it. The idea is to block out noise from other people, which can be done so very easily by listening to the delightful sounds of birds singing.
Doing this also can help you to gain perspective like you never experienced before, and that new perspective you’ve discovered is just more of who you really are being released from your subconscious and smashing into your consciousness. Let go of the negative. Embrace the positive. Embrace who you really are.
4) Embrace yourself
You’re an individual, and finding that individuality is what this entire exercise is about. Now that you’ve assessed your past and present, and you’ve learned how to turn off the noise around you that may once have been significant but now is not, it’s time to embrace your individuality. In this step, make two lists.
On the first list, write positive things you feel you’ve accomplished to this point in your life. Take a little time to write down what you did and why you think it’s essential—in other words, why you’ve included on this list. Performing this step will help you to realize how much of a positive impact you’ve had in your world. It also will help you to learn what you think is important in life, which in turn, will help you to learn more about your own personal values and what’s important to you.
On the second list, write down goals you would like to achieve in your life. There are two very simple questions you can ask yourself that will help to flesh out what’s really important to you to find the goals your authentic self wants to achieve. These are:
1. What would I regret if I never do it? Because the answers here are as limitless as humans’ personal desires, we’re not going to list any questions at all; we don’t want to influence your answers by including our own questions. This is your question to ask yourself, and society’s questions and beliefs are the opposite of what we’re going for here.
2. What would I do with my life if money were no object? This is a simple question you may have been asked by a career counselor in school. Naturally, the idea is to discover your passions. Write down your interests. Write down your hobbies. Write down your passions. Write about the things you love to do and the things you wouldn’t mind spending your life doing. Brainstorm, scribble, and ‘mind map’ your way to personal authenticity. Doing this will help you find yourself by guiding you to discoveries of what you want for your future, and it will help set you on the path to achieving it.
5) Get organized
This step may sound unnecessary in an abstract exercise about finding yourself, but remember that this is about performing concrete steps to achieving that end. In doing so, getting organized is actually quite valuable. Living among clutter can be an obstacle to finding out who you are and, in turn, becoming the person you want to be.
Do some ‘spring cleaning’ of your life. This can include actually cleaning your house or your room. It can consist of making a daily or weekly schedule for yourself that you follow most of the time. (Very few of us can follow our schedules to the letter. After all, life happens!) It can mean making a promise to yourself to do your homework or study for your next college exam before going out with your friends. It means putting your needs before your wants, and it can also mean saying ‘no’ when necessary if you’re a ‘people pleaser’ who has trouble saying ‘no.’ People pleasers rarely know their authentic selves, and that means they often get stuck.
In this step, you must also begin relying on yourself and trusting your own judgment. Because getting organized will guide you in finding yourself and becoming the person you’re meant to be, it will also help you gain confidence and self-reliance. Being able to depend on yourself is a significant step to finding your own self-worth. Other people can likely rely on you, but if you cannot rely on yourself, you’ll never find your true, authentic identity. Make a budget, make your own decisions and hold yourself accountable for their consequences, and make a plan for your future.
The idea with step #5 is to get on a path and grow in the right direction to achieve your goals. It’s about relying on yourself. It’s about being your own best friend by ending bad behaviors that you wouldn’t want your family or friends to exhibit, and you’d likely help them to curb these. Few things will help you find yourself more wholly and succinctly than achieving your goals. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how organization and self-reliance will lead you to your true self.
6) Find your passions and run with them
This step is both scary and wonderful! Nothing will help you to discover your true self more fully than setting a career goal and achieving it. You already know many things you like to do. You have hobbies and interests that you’ve carried from childhood, and now it’s time to do something about them.
Finding out who you are can be a big step in living your dreams. Remember the list you wrote in step #4? Now it’s time to put those passions into action. Some concrete steps that can help you find your passion and set a career goal based on them include:
Finding a mentor: Mentors are all around us. Whatever your passion, there are people who have the same interests and who have already pursued a course in those interests. Some have even made successful careers based on those passions. Find someone you admire and ask if they’ll consider being your mentor. The concept of mentoring goes back thousands of years, but it has recently enjoyed a resurgence in our culture. Many people are perfectly willing to be mentors, and they’re flattered to be asked. Make sure they know you need to do this your way, but you’re interested in hearing how they achieved their own personal goals in your field of interest.
Gathering a support system: No one goes it totally alone, no matter what you’ve read in any famous person’s autobiography. Everyone needs a support system, even if it’s just a couple close friends who are willing to cheer you on to victory.
Being honest with yourself: A job pays the bills, but it doesn’t necessarily fulfill your passions. Naturally, you have to pay your bills, but if you find your job is sapping your energy, pursue your passions in your spare time. You don’t necessarily need to quit a job that doesn’t satisfy your passions and interests; you just need to pursue those passions elsewhere. And, by all means, by honest with yourself about your talents, your goals, your dreams. Being candid with yourself is a major factor in finding yourself.
If your passion can eventually be a career, do some research about gaining some instruction in your desired field. And even if you never achieve a career in your field, pursuing it after work can stimulate your life and rejuvenate your spirit. For instance, maybe you want to be an actor, but you’re thinking acting is a tough field in which to make a comfortable living. Then spend your leisure time performing in community theater, and who knows? Maybe you’ll hit it big on Broadway! But if you don’t, pursuing your interests and passions outside of work will help to keep your love for acting alive, it will help you meet new people and make new friends, and it will enrich your life with fun and fulfilling new experiences.
7) Be yourself
Steps one through six have helped you to learn about your past and how it shaped you. They’ve helped you to learn how to turn off the negative noise around you and listen to your own positive voice. They’ve helped you to uncover your moral code, discover your passions, organize your life, trust your own judgment, rely on yourself, and pursue your passions.
Congratulations! You now know so much more about who you are than you did before, and you probably even know more about your true, authentic self than anyone around you.
And now that you’ve learned all of these things, it’s time to start being yourself.
But remember that finding your true, authentic self is still a journey. Go back to these steps every so often; they’ll help to remind you to stay true to yourself along the way.
We all want to find ourselves. It’s only a precious few of us feel who feel as though we have achieved real knowledge of our true identities. But finding that authentic self, that honest and genuine identity—an identity that will help us decide which paths to take, when to change directions, and how we fit into our world—it’s pretty important in life.
Steve Jobs possibly put it best when he said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
Living ‘someone else’s life’ sort of sounds like living a lie, doesn’t it? It’s an unhappy place to be, especially if you find yourself stuck there for years and years. The sooner you find yourself, the sooner you’ll be able to begin living your own life. But no matter what age you are now, no matter how lost you may feel or how far from your true self you feel, as long as there’s breath in your body, the good news is that there’s time for you to find your true identity—that real person you were always meant to be—so you can finally begin living the life you were meant to live.