Who are you? If you can’t promptly answer that question you don’t have a very clear picture of your own identity. Having a clear image of yourself is essential in relationships, self-confidence and growth. Just as it’s impossible to reach your destination when you don’t know where you are, it is impossible to become who you want to be when you aren’t clear on who you are.
Popular culture has gotten hold of this idea that you need to travel around Europe and possibly even experiment with crazy substances to ‘find yourself’. Although all this traveling might expand you, I think that it is actually a lot easier to discover your identity. In fact, I think it should only take about twenty minutes.
Why Discover Yourself?
Before I go into the actual process, I think it is important to figure out why determining the identity you currently have is incredibly important.
Critical for Growth
In order to improve you must first ascertain where you are and then how you want to be. If you aren’t sure where you are, it is impossible to start making movements towards where you want to be. A lot of pop psychology tells you to accentuate the positive and push aside the negative, but unfortunately without first recognizing the potentially negative you can’t fix it.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently about this idea of your own identity. I likened relationships to selling a product, where the product is you. I pointed out that, unfortunately, no matter how fancy your ad campaign is, if people are unsure what the product is they will be hesitant to buy it.
By determining exactly what product you are selling along with its features and weaknesses you will unknowingly market this product to whoever you meet. Because most people aren’t quite sure what product they are selling they can’t possibly market it effectively.
But when you know exactly what you are selling then you can start to present yourself in a way that will attract people who are interested in buying this product. Of course this is true of all types of human relationships, be they friendship, business or intimate.
Knowing that, for right now, this is who you are, has an amazing level of self-satisfaction. When you are completely honest or unsure about who you are it is easy to get trapped into looking at tiny imperfections because you can’t perceive the whole. Discovering yourself inevitably creates the paradoxical situation where you both accept who you are without removing the desire to improve it.
Have Twenty Minutes to Spare?
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think uncovering your identity is really as difficult or momentous as it is often perceived. I think that you can get a really good grip on your current identity in about twenty minutes, and all you need is a piece of paper and a pencil (or a computer).
Start the exercise by simply creating a list of all the attributes and ways you define yourself on a piece of paper. Now it is easy to make a fairly short list describing pretty obvious attributes, but I think you need to get a little more depth. Keep writing on your list until it has at least 100 to 200 points about yourself. I did this exercise a few days ago and I found that the first fifty points or so were relatively easy but the last twenty five caused me to really think deep and hard.
Write down items that describe anything that you would associate with your identity. This means accomplishments, failures, strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, interests, hopes, past, future, etc. I’m fairly young so I would argue that my list would probably be short compared to people who have lived longer. Keep writing until you can’t think of anything more. Then write another twenty five points.
Stick with the exercise until it is finished. Again it may take as long as twenty minutes or more if you are a slow writer, but it will give you immense clarity and satisfaction afterwards.
Write the Good and the Bad
This list is not a resume or a way of perceiving yourself in a positive light. This is a method of determining exactly what your current identity is, the good, the bad and the ugly. If there are parts of you that you dislike, write them down too. You will be the only person reading this piece of paper, so get everything out there.
You might feel uncomfortable writing down negative aspects of yourself. You may have wanted to push some of them away or avoid them. But part of discovering yourself is also finding the parts that maybe you dislike, are afraid of or even hate.
When you write these things down, realize that they are a part of you too. Accept the truth that these are components of your identity. Uncovering these parts can be the most difficult, but it is absolutely necessary if you want a clear identity that can be improved upon.
Look at Your List
When you look at your list, which will likely be several pages long, you may be astounded at just how large and complex your identity is. Your current identity has hundreds of intertwined factors that create your life. Some of them you might not like, others you might feel incredibly proud of.
The next step is to get complete acceptance of this list. If you don’t feel the list is complete, go back and add more to it, but ultimately you must look at your immense list of qualities and accept that this is who you are right now, in this very moment.
Now that you have a comprehensive list of your identity, everything is out in the open. No longer are parts of yourself veiled, hidden from view. With your current identity precise and clear, the true work begins. This is the work of crafting exactly what you want from your identity. Make it the way you want it to be and determine how to express it in the best way possible.
When I was discussing with a friend this idea using a product analogy, I likened this revelation to discovering you are a blender. Up until this point you might have realized you had an electrical cord, a few buttons and glass container, but you weren’t sure exactly what you were. Upon realizing you are a blender, you can now go about taking what might be a mediocre blender and making the best blender possible.
You need to do the same thing with your identity. Find the parts of yourself that you didn’t like and begin the process of changing them. Find the parts of yourself that you did like and accentuate them even more throughout your identity. One of the things I discovered was how open I was to trying new things. I feel that this aspect needs to be accentuated more in my own identity.
Don’t Become a Toaster!
Back onto my silly household appliance metaphor of human identity, I think there can sometimes be the temptation to turn your identity into a universal product that everyone wants. So instead of just being a great blender, you also want to be a great toaster and possibly a microwave. Aside from the difficulty in adding all these features, you end up being a neutral product nobody really wants to buy.
Part of discovering your identity is in determining the best way to market that identity. Of course not everyone wants a blender, but coming up with a message that best illustrates the benefits of being a blender will not only improve your relationships but make you more secure within your own identity.
My favorite example of this self-marketing was when the dating guru Mystery took the example of a computer programmer and how to make it appear more attractive. By likening computer programming to understanding the patterns in nature and even human consciousness, he made the profession sound almost mystical and beautiful. There are infinite ways of viewing something, so pick a good one. A lot sexier than it currently appears to most people.
This was an example of how two people with the same identity can market it, not only to others but to themselves, in the best light possible. By finding your identity, improving it to where you want to be and discovering the best way to project that identity to yourself and others, I think you are on your first steps to creating a life you really want.