Who are you? We introduce ourselves to others often in our society, so you would think this question would be rather simple to answer. Yet for most of us, this is a question that haunts us in the quiet moments. And the reason it haunts us is that when we’re honest, we’re not sure we know the answer.
But through figuring out the answer to that question, you can find the path in life that really lights you up and allows you to experience ultimate success. And when you are confident in who you are, your relationships flourish and others are able to see you in the way that you long to be seen.
In this article, we will detail step-by-step how you can start to formulate an answer to that question that doesn’t necessarily rely on your occupation or the town you grew up in.
Why knowing your identity is important
It is entirely possible to go through life without ever taking the time to figure out who you are. But if you want to live and not just exist, it is critical that you take the time to get to know yourself.
Research has found that how you identify yourself, especially relative to others, significantly impacts your performance. It is through knowing who you are that you are able to better understand how you can best succeed when you face tests and challenges.
And if achieving success doesn’t motivate you to want to know who you are, perhaps avoiding prison will. A study in 2008 found that individuals were less likely to go to prison if the jury felt that the person was strong in their identity.
Now I know, or at least I hope, that most of us won’t be in a position where we are facing the potential of going to prison. But it demonstrates that others can sense when you know who you are and this impacts how they interact with you.
What happens when you don’t know who you are
Maybe it still sounds like a lot of work to figure out who you are. And I won’t lie, it is. But the costs of not knowing who you are could affect your relationships and your work life.
A study in 2006 found that when individuals couldn’t understand their identity at work, the organization experienced reduced levels of cooperation and their performance suffered.
And outside of the workplace, researchers found that couples who were married and didn’t have a sense of individual identity were more likely to experience decreased stability and decreased satisfaction in their marriage.
Since work and our relationships are key components of our lives, it seems to me that understanding who you are could make life a whole lot more enjoyable for everyone.
5 ways to figure out who you are
So now that you are ready to tackle this big existential question, let’s dive into steps you can take to come up with an answer that leaves you fulfilled and giddy with excitement about the future.
1. Go back to your childhood
When we are children, we have this innate sense of who we are and what we enjoy.
It’s common for teachers to ask their students, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And back then, you probably didn’t second guess your answer.
I remember quite clearly my answer to this question when I was a hopeful little kindergartener with a gap between her two front teeth. My answer was I wanted to be a doctor.
Now, what I want you to glean from going back to your childhood is not necessarily a direction for your career path. You have to dig deeper than that to get at who you are.
You have to look at what your childhood self already knew about your nature by examining your interests. When I look back on my childhood I can clearly see how I knew that I wanted to give to others and that I found my greatest peace in nature. And this has helped shape my understanding of who I am and what I want to pursue to this very day.
2. Ask trusted loved ones
If you feel particularly lost and have no sense of who you are, it’s time to seek out an opinion that doesn’t live inside your head.
I find it easiest to ask my loved ones, “How would you describe me?”
Now be sure to tell the people you are asking that you do not want sugar-coated answers. Because most of us are accustomed to sugarcoating things for the people we love. But if you truly trust this person, ask for the raw and honest truth about how they would describe you.
I recall asking my husband this question. He required that I sign a prenuptial contract before giving me his answer. I’m only half kidding.
His honest answer revealed to me that I am hardworking and kind. This answer helped me to realize that even when I am at my lowest and don’t know who I am, my loved ones perceive me as ambitious and loving. This answer let me get out of my head and realize that if others perceive me that way, perhaps it was time that I perceived myself that way, too.
3. Examine how you spend your free time
Perhaps one of the most telling indications of who you are and what brings you the greatest joy in life is what you choose to do during your free time.
For me, I spend a good amount of time trail-running or strength training. And when I am not doing those things, I am usually trying to hang out with my husband or a good friend.
Within those simple activities, you can see that I am someone who values health and spending time in mother nature. And I also value relationships and investing time in people I care about.
Sometimes figuring out who you are is as simple as looking at what exactly it is that you do day in and day out. And if you find that you don’t like what you see, there’s no better time than now to take action and change.
4. Determine your highest values
Knowing what you value can be incredibly insightful for figuring out who you are.
Take some time and just jot down some of your values. Your list could include things like love, health, freedom, adventure, certainty, etc. Take some time to really think about what matters to you.
And once you have developed this list, see if you can prioritize which values you find to be the most important. Now you have formulated a list that tells you who you are and what motivates you in life.
For me, love and health are some of my top values. This has helped me figure out that I am someone who needs meaningful relationships in my life and that I will do everything in my control to take care of my body.
We often do know who we are. But we are so busy in life that it can be hard to take time to reflect on what you value and how that relates to your identity.
5. Figure out who you are not
As it turns out, the process of elimination is helpful for more than just multiple-choice exams.
If you have no idea who you are, maybe you want to start by figuring out who you are not. I know it sounds silly, but it really can be a useful thought process.
For example, I know I am not a tech-savvy person and I know I am not interested in physics. I know I am not interested in going to a heavy metal concert or spending my life locked up in a cubicle working 9-5.
By knowing who I am not, I can start to figure who I actually am and what I want in life. And for whatever reason, it is usually easier to start by figuring out who you are not, so I encourage you to start here if you feel super stuck when it comes to figuring out your identity.
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So I am going to ask one more time. Who are you? After reading this article and implementing the tips, you should be able to confidently answer this question without blinking. And with this sense of your identity, you can take on the world and continue to use your life experience to develop a new answer.
What do you think? Do you think these tips will help you figure out who you are? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!