I read tons of books and blogs. I listen to podcasts. I fill journal after journal. I love learning and challenging myself to grow. The thread running through all of these things is a question—who am I and how can I live more fully as myself?
For a long time I believed there was a certain way I was supposed to be. When I could never quite measure up to that image, I thought it must mean there was something wrong with me.
Throughout our lives we build up layer upon layer of beliefs about ourselves and expectations about who we should be. Some of those beliefs and expectations just don’t reflect who we truly are.
I’m still far from knowing exactly who I am, but a new self-image has begun to take shape. The person I’m discovering is someone I like so much better than the person I’d long believed I was supposed to be.
But underneath all my excitement over my self-discovery lurks a fear. I didn’t even realize I was asking this dread-filled question until I heard myself say the words out loud. What if this new version of myself isn’t really me after all? What if I’m just constructing a new mask for myself based on the qualities I admire in others?
I want to know how I can trust that this is really me—but the truth is, I can’t.
The thing is, I was looking at my identity as a static thing to be uncovered. I wanted to believe that if I could just shake off all the expectations about who I should be that I could finally reveal my true identity, certain and whole.
Unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—it’s not that simple. My identity isn’t a fixed thing I can piece together like a jigsaw puzzle. I will not snap the last piece into place and be able to easily live completely as myself for the rest of my life. Who am I? will not cease to be a question. Even if I could come up with a complete answer today, by tomorrow it would be out of date.
We are always changing.
When I’m right in the middle of something it feels like what’s really important to me then will stay important forever. Sometimes it does, but often that’s just not the case. As I learn and grow there are always new ideas and challenges to interest me. Even the things that do stick with me have different seasons and the role they take in my life evolves.
Changes in our circumstances—whether as a result of our own decisions or the inevitable curveballs life throws at us—challenge us to adapt and develop qualities and capabilities that were lying dormant or simply didn’t exist before. Either way, who we were yesterday is still part of us, but we’ve grown into someone we’ve never been before.
We are always being influenced by others.
We are social beings. No matter how savvy I become at discerning between what is authentically me and what is an expectation of who I’m supposed to be, I still live in relationship with other people. Just as my words and actions impact others, the people I come in contact with influence me.
I can’t become completely independent from other people, and I don’t want to. Discovering my true identity loses value if it isolates me from others. Some of my favorite parts of myself show up in my connections with other people. I don’t have to choose between sacrificing my identity to fit others’ expectations or only considering myself. Instead, as I learn more about who I am, I’m also figuring out how to best live in community.
We are always in the process of figuring out who we are.
Just because I don’t expect to reach a final answer of who I am—at least not in this lifetime—doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to pursue self-discovery and keep asking myself big questions. No matter who I become tomorrow or thirty years from now, who I am today matters.
What I know to be true about myself today shapes the choices I’ll make, the nature of my interactions, and what I’ll contribute to the world around me. My current self-concept is what I have to determine how I’ll live. Today’s decisions and interactions are a key part of shaping who I become tomorrow. Whether I am making the most of who I am today or hiding the best parts of myself indicates whether I will grow or stagnate.
All the exercises I share to deepen our self-knowledge aren’t one-and-done activities. They are tools in our ongoing process of becoming. When I ask the question Who am I? what I’m really asking is who am I today? And who do I want to grow to become tomorrow?
Learning more about myself is exciting and empowering, but needing to find a definitive answer is limiting. It doesn’t leave us any room to grow.
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What has been most helpful for you in discovering more of who you are? How has who you are changed over time? Is it exciting or scary (or a little bit of both) to think about who you are as something continuously growing and changing instead of a set identity to discover?