I Didn’t Know Who I Was


Have you ever felt at a loss as to what you should be doing with your life? Is what you are doing in line with what’s most important to you? With who you are?

I’ve spent so many years frustrated because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Questions about career choices left me paralyzed in a sea of uncertainty and despair.

I wanted to know what to do. I wanted to have a purpose. I wanted to contribute something meaningful to the world.

But all my striving to be who I was supposed to be and do what I was supposed to do fell flat.

Even as I chafed against the things I thought I should be, I believed it was because I wasn’t enough. I was failing to live up to who I was supposed to be. It never occurred to me that maybe I was failing because I was striving to be someone I was never meant to be.

How could I possibly know my purpose in life if I didn’t even know who I was?

Rather than scouring career paths and job opportunities trying to find the one right answer, what I really needed to do is get clear on who I am. Nevermind who others believe I am or think I should be; I need to know who I am at my core as my most authentic self.

Digging into our core values is a foundational step in the processes of discovering who we are. Our values are those qualities that are most important to us or describe our best, truest selves.

Our values serve as an internal compass. How can we possibly make decisions about how we’re going to spend our lives if we don’t even know what is most important to us?

And yet so many of us never take the time to discover what our core values really are.

To get started determining your own core values, find a list of values to work from; a quick internet search should provide you with plenty of options. Read through your list and mark any words that resonate with you.

Don’t analyze the words right now; just go with your gut and mark all the words that strike you. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think you actually embody each value at this point.

The words you mark might be things you aspire to or admire. They might be things that feel central to your very existence. They might be words you’ve never really thought about, but strike a chord with you. They may be things you long for, but think are beyond your reach. Mark them all. We’ll refine your list later.

Once you’re sure you’ve marked all the words that speak to you, take a look at your list. It might be pretty long at this point. That’s ok.

Your list of values will be most helpful if it is short enough to easily remember and concise enough to provide focus. You don’t need to pick a specific number, but something in the neighborhood of five values might be a good place to start. If you have a long list, paring it down to just five values might feel overwhelming. Don’t worry. I have tips and questions to help you along the way.

First, let’s look for umbrella words. As you read through your list you’ll likely notice a number of your words are actually variations of a similar idea. For example, compassion, affection, kindness, and caring could all be considered to be forms of love.

Look through your own list and see which words you can categorize under one umbrella value. Then, let your list marinate in your mind for a little while. Come back next time for more questions to help you determine which values are most important to you—or whether those values are really yours at all.

Did any values you marked surprise you? How much time have you spent thinking about your values in the past? Do you rely on your values to help you make decisions in your life? Have you ever felt hopeless in finding your purpose?