Self-Discovery Is Unreachable...
...but a more useful goal is attainable. Enter: self-awareness.
Hot take: you will never discover yourself.
Have you ever heard someone (maybe even you or me) say “I discovered myself in college,” or “I just need to discover who I am,” or “we’re all on a journey to discover ourselves,” or something of the like? At first glance, it seems like we should all be aiming for self-discovery. That’s how we make better decisions and live happier, more fulfilled lives, right?
At the age of 19, I thought I discovered myself. Among other things, I learned I hated conflict so I would avoid it at all costs. So, I began to reinforce what I thought I knew to be true about myself: I avoided conflict at all costs. If I had an alternative point of view, I reluctantly stifled it. If someone asked my opinion, I tried to get as close as possible to agreeing with them without outright lying. Speaking out was simply not an option for me, because I knew I didn’t like conflict and debating was simply never going to be my strength.
Gradually, I started to feel unsettled about this way of handling myself, especially when I was part of a conversation where it was clear a point was being overlooked. Yet, here I was, Miss Conflict Avoidance, so I couldn’t bring it up. Right? Until I realized: who I was does not define who I am becoming. I was becoming the person in the room who didn’t like conflict, but would introduce it if I felt a critical point was missed. It’s become a crucial piece of the value I add to a team and to my friendships, but I resisted it because it didn’t fit my previously “discovered” self.
The other week, we talked about the importance of determining what you want, not what the crowd wants. It’s a hard thing to do, and perhaps part of the challenge is this: in order to know what we want, we need to know at least a thing or two about who we are. But, if we look at who we are as static, we won’t get very far. Because, here’s the problem with self-discovery: like any other discovery, it’s the end of a journey. As humans, if we’re still living and breathing, we aren’t at an endpoint. Instead of fixating on the day we’ll finally figure ourselves out (or thinking we already have), we’re better off taking time every now and then to understand more about who we were, who we are now, and who we are becoming.
Much of my free time these days is spent mentoring candidates for a national youth leadership team. There are many elements which lead to success—not just in the sense of getting elected, but in the sense of finding meaning in the whole journey. But, here’s the secret sauce: We’re not after self-discovery. We aim for self-awareness. Below are some of the questions we often talk through to uncover the self-awareness which leads to generative growth, rather than stagnated self-discovery of who we were at a particular moment in time.
What captivates my attention right now? What did I used to be fascinated with? How many of those things have remained the same?
What is something about me that people often misunderstand?
What emotions have I felt most commonly over the last few weeks? Are these typical compared to the last few years?
What frustrates me? What excites me? What brings me joy?
When I end a really good day, what is it that made it a good day?
What role do I typically fill on a team or in a friend group? Do I enjoy playing that role? Am I good at playing that role?
If I were to tell someone a story which best describes who I am and/or what I love, what would that story be?
When I catch yourself in a selfish moment, what motivates me? (Emotions, money, status, security, etc)
What would it look like for me to live up to your fullest potential, tomorrow? What about a year from now? Five years from now?
I’d encourage you to think about these questions—not every day (even I’ll admit that’s just overwhelming), but perhaps every six months to a year—and take time to journal out your thoughts, or share with a loved one, or talk out loud to yourself on a long drive. Notice what changes about you when you have significant learning experiences, and give yourself the flexibility to become who you are next. After all, as cool as you are today, Future You Is A Cool Person, Too.
Journal Prompt(s) of the Week
See the questions above ;)