I had a therapist once who was very studied in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and the first time I told him I was “trying to find myself” he looked around the room, even under his desk and then said “Why? Where did you go?” If you consider “I’m trying to find myself” or “I’m going to find myself” as a literal statement, it does seem like a silly thing to say; we are always WITH ourselves. The point isn’t about going outward to another location or city or country to “find” ourselves, it’s about looking inward to acknowledge that there is something going on inside of us that has created a sense of confusion, being lost, or feeling unaccepted. Why would I want to find myself unless I’d lost my sense-of-self somewhere along the way?
In a very real sense, I did lose my sense of self along the way. As a child I was playful, a tom-boy, I laughed a lot, I had a big imagination and used to write crazy stories. I wrote stories so scary that I had to sleep with my mom, because I was too frightened of my own characters to sleep alone. However, living in a small, rural town, in a precarious situation, led to me dampen down my personality. People didn’t like my accent, they didn’t like the way I dressed, they stole my poems from my notebook and posted them on bulletin boards for all to see and then teased me with the words from my own poetry. Whatever playful, imaginative child and young tween I’d been, I purposefully pushed her down inside me so that I fit in with my peers. Does every teenager do this? I have no idea, but I do know that I’ve heard a lot of people, including one of my own children, tell me they needed to find themselves.
This is part of the journey of self-discovery.
It took me years and years, an abusive marriage, leaving a religion that advocated suppressing my true playful spirit, and a lot of times ignoring my intuition, to fully realize that I don’t need to find myself, I just needed to be true to myself. If I want to laugh out loud, I do. If my intuition is telling me not to do something and everyone around me is telling me to do it, I don’t do it; and vice versa. That’s a tough one, because I have to walk the line of saying “I appreciate your opinion, but I have to do what I feel is best for me and honor what my intuition is telling me.” There are people in my life that don’t get that and even get offended at what they think is my forwardness. Luckily though, I’ve managed to taper my words from “F*ck your opinion, I’m going to do what I want!” to a more calm and compassionate “I appreciate your care and concern, but I have to do what I have to do to take care of myself in this situation and even if you don’t agree, I hope you can support me.”
I’m getting better at that. When I left my first marriage and the religion of my youth, I was so adventurous and crazy and boisterous, that I sometimes told my truth without compassion. I’ve since learned that honesty, without compassion, is cruelty and even though I wasn’t trying to be cruel, my words of “Jeez, leave me alone, I’m going to do what I want and to hell with you if you don’t agree” were not compassionate.
That too has been part of my journey of self-discovery.
I am learning how to honor myself, take care of myself, listen to my intuition, and make good choices for me while at the same time realizing that there are people in my life who might strongly disagree with my decisions, but who I respect and still want to be a part of my life. Finding that balance of compassion and support is a dance. Right now, I’d say I dance this dance with my husband the most. When we married we were marching straight down the same path, with gusto and an orchestra playing our soundtrack. He owns a business and I worked for him for a lot of years, we traveled together for work, we presented ourselves as the couple behind the business making it work and loving every second. I did love a lot of it, but not as much as he does. Now (over 10 years later) my husband is very excited about work and life choices that I was less and less involved with and I needed to make a change, so I embraced big changes in my own career. I was guided by my intuition to create a quieter, more peaceful and structured environment around me for work, self-care, meditation and freedom. I can travel a little more freely and cross off some items on my bucketlist.
Right now I am living my journey of self-discovery and doing what I need to do to take care of myself, whatever that looks like and where ever that takes me.
When I read this question, my mind automatically goes to religion. Why am I here? My answer used to be because God put me here with this family to test me and I have to succeed. But in a more general sense, we can ask ourselves this question and think more groundedly. Why am I in this city? Working at this job? Why am I out on this date right now? Why am I spending Christmas with my parents if I don’t want to do it? If we drill down on the moment in time and not the cosmic picture, we can ask ourselves “why am I here right now?” That can make all the difference.
We make choices to do things and some of those choices are not be in our best interest, but we do them because we think other people think we should be doing them. Part of self-discovery is pausing to ask this question, especially if you’re wallowing in “why me?” mode.
I used to use shopping as therapy. I didn’t ask myself why I wanted something. To me, if it looked cute or caught my eye or if it was on clearance sale, I bought it. Or I charged it on a credit card and felt badly about it later. It is important to know the motivations behind the things we desire. I wanted to learn Spanish and have spent a great deal of time learning it, because I really wanted to be bi-lingual. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and as a great side benefit, I can travel with more confidence.
When I am out on my long runs I remind myself that I’m doing it because I want to test my body, my inner strength and because I want to be healthy. It is important to me that when I’m my mom’s age I do not want to require a walker or a wheelchair. I don’t even want to use a cane. I want my body to be healthy and hearty for decades more.
For me this is the hardest question to answer. My children bring me joy, but I also miss having little kids around and being a full-time mom. So I have to work to hold on to the joyous feelings and focus less on what I do not have.
Sunshine and clear skies bring me joy. Writing brings me joy. I love the euphoric feeling I get after a run, whether I reached a milestone or not. Getting off a plane in a foreign city with no plan for what I’m going to do for the next day or two, brings me a lot of joy. For me that is one of the ultimate challenges in self-discovery.
Oftentimes we avoid decisions because we are afraid and in doing that we avoid really digging deep and figuring out what we want. This is an intense part of self-discovery. I was afraid of being alone for the longest time. It’s, in part, why I stayed married to my first husband for so long. I did not want to be alone, and I thought that being alone said something about me as a person, that I was unlovable and not worth anything.
Right after we were separated and before we had a custody arrangement in place, I found that my first husband decided to write his own custody terms and he dictated when I could see our kids. He changed the locks on the house, he kept them from me and I spent a lot of time alone. I faced that fear and over time realized that being alone did not “say” anything about me as a person. It wasn’t a social commentary on my worth. I learned to enjoy my alone time and now I cherish it. I would never have had that moment of self-discovery if I wasn’t forced into it, but I faced that fear and learned so much from it.
This is where my goal sheet comes in handy. I tend to write out my goals at least every six months and depending on how my life has changed, I generally have short-term (less than six months), one-year, five-year and even long term, ten-year goals. When I go over my goals, I write out the smaller steps I can take to reach a long-term goal.
It is in those steps that I have discovered what things I can do to move more toward what I want for my life. I used to ignore that and think about what others wanted, what I needed to do for them, or even what they didn’t think I should do, but now in my own self-discovery I can make choices every single day that move me closer to my ideal life.
These are just suggestions. Take what you like and leave the rest.
- attend a yoga retreat
- write a pro con list about a big concern you have or as an answer to one or more of the questions above
- write out a bucketlist or if you have one already, update it
- I know there was a movie about this, but spend a day or two saying “Yes” to everything
- take a road trip
- make a goal to write in a journal at the end or beginning of every day for a certain amount of time. Read back over it when you’re done and see if anything hits home with you.
- volunteer somewhere; I’m a firm believer that helping others helps us.
- spend a weekend or longer without any television, movies, cell phone, internet and just read actual books, drink tea, etc.
- pick a hobby you’ve always wanted to do, but never done and do it. Paint, run, write, draw, learn to cook, etc.
- take an acting class