We often believe that because we were born in a certain place and around certain people, we must become that, and we must let it become us. We believe so strongly that we are molded by our experiences, our pasts, and the people around us that they come to define us.
While all of those things help shape us and guide our perception of life, they don’t define us. Those are all external, temporary things. The ever-changing nature of your environment shows that what you are surrounded by can always change, but that doesn’t mean it determines your worth or presence.
I mean, have you ever felt like you don’t belong in a certain group of people? Or you identify so strongly with a different culture or time that you wish your life started there rather than where it did? Or even just gotten out of a relationship? Fought with your parents? These things are indicators that what’s happening around us doesn’t define us or who we are. They are merely coincidental by-products of the life we were given.
The danger of letting all these external factors define you is getting lost in them.
I really just called myself out because if you’re an incredibly easily influenced person like me, it’s so easy to get lost in what’s happening around you. It makes self-discovery and exploring your own self that much more important.
But why do so many people neglect this? Or at least don’t know where to start?
There are many different ways to discover yourself, including not let yourself stop at just self-discovery. One of the most memorable quotes I took out of my high school history classroom is, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself,” quoted by my man Mr. Shaw. So, there’s self-discovery, there’s self-exploration, and there’s even self-creation.
If my whole point up until now is that your environment doesn’t define you, then what does?
Well, I’m still trying to figure that out. But, I can tell you this. The type of self-discovery I’m talking about right now is the hard type. The kind that makes people uncomfortable and squeamish and something that many people go their whole lives without doing or thinking about. Where you literally get out a pen and paper (or, I like to use a computer), open a blank page, and simply write things down about yourself.
Wait, what? Yep, it’s that easy… or hard.
Taking time to physically write about who you are, or who you think you are, on a piece of paper and actually think about it, reflect on it, and internalize what it means in your own life is so bluntly rejected in our society that even I feel sheer embarrassment doing it.
People are simply uncomfortable with the fact that taking time to explore who you are means admitting the deepest and darkest parts of you. That’s a scary thing. It’s also something that you’re probably doing alone, exploring aspects of yourself that you—and only you—know about. That can be an isolating thing. And if you’re anything like me, you might go into it insecure and unconfident about what you might find. You may end up doing the easy thing letting life go by and allowing your true self to remain unnoticed forever.
It’s the easy thing, but it’s also the most dangerous thing.
Because as I said before, without looking inward, without exploring the deepest parts of yourself, without gaining a sense of what makes you you and what qualities you have to offer to the world, you risk getting lost in the shuffle. You risk getting so swept away by the chaos happening outside you that you may spend your whole life without any real idea of who you are and what makes you worthy. Because no matter what, you ARE worthy. So often, we forget this or doubt this. We let our environments overwhelm us without having any real sense of who we are to ground us.
But, it is never too late to explore. It is boundless. There may be a limit on how many places you can travel to in this world or how many people you may meet, but your mind is limitless. And what you’re doing when you’re giving yourself space and time to discover it is recognizing what really fuels your soul. What qualities you value, what you want out of life, or even how you like to spend your time without others dictating it.
What I’ve done time and time again and what I always go back to is writing lists. It really is as simple as that.
I sit down and just write down anything about myself that makes me feel the most natural or what I actually want to define me. I recently just word vomited a list about how I like to spend my time to figure out if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. And I know it might sound really lame, but it really does give me such a deeper understanding of how and why I am who I am in certain situations. It makes me realize that I don’t have to be ashamed of myself when I am true to who I am, which I uncover while doing these exercises.
Tuning into my authentic self and repairing the parts that have been most broken or uncertain essentially help bring me back to the surface again.
Remember when I said I’m easily influenced?
It can make things a little fuzzy in my life and leave me disoriented and feel like I’m floating.
Use self-exploration as a way to ground yourself, get back to your roots, and recenter.
It honestly does bring you closer to your authentic self.
At the end of the day, you are the person you spend the most time with, and you know yourself the best. Engaging in self-discovery gives you power over your qualities and thoughts rather than letting others influence them or giving in to what others want. Other than the little identity boost, it will instill you with so much purpose and a newfound confidence that will shrink the window of doubt you have about yourself. Doing any of the hard things always builds confidence.
Stay grounded. Remain focused. It is never too late to get to the core of who you are.
Here are some of the writing prompts I’ve engaged in to gain a better sense of who I am:
- How I like to spend my time and reflecting on how I feel in certain situations.
- Tendencies I have with people and trying to understand why or how I really feel in those situations (jealous, insecure, etc.).
- Things that drain my energy or give me energy.
- Qualities about myself I’m proud of or grateful for.
- Things I’ve learned and what situations prompted me to learn them.
- Experiences that have been successful or unsuccessful in my life (without judgment or shame).
- Who I was as a child. That is probably when we’re truly at our most authentic selves anyway before life, anxiety, and fear of judgment get in the way.
- A list of “Who am I?” Things like what qualities describe me, who I am as a person at my most authentic self, my values, and how I express my values through actions.
Self-discovery doesn’t have to be that deep. It could really be just reminding yourself of who you are and what fundamental qualities make you you.