“The only journey is the journey within.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
One of the most fulfilling and meaningful life journeys is to find yourself.
It’s also one of the most daunting. Yet it’s a crucial part of the cycle of life.
We grow up, shaped by our parents, our education, our society, only to be pushed into the world, with the expectation of becoming completely independent and succeeding as an individual.
How are you supposed to find yourself when you’re out there on your own?
The truth is, so many of us never figure it out. We walk through life never really knowing who we are.
When we don’t know who we are, we end up living our lives for others. But your life is yours! It’s a gift given to you.
You need to find out who you are in order to live your life to the fullest.
But how do you even begin to find yourself? Are you supposed to meditate endlessly until you reach enlightenment?
Probably not. I can’t tell you who you are. But I can help you begin that journey.
Follow along to learn how to find yourself.
Why do we feel lost?
Feeling lost is a key part of finding yourself.
Why? Because “feeling lost” is the first sign of an awakening. It’s you realizing that your life is on the wrong track. Before that, you were simply living life for others. Now, you know that that’s not enough.
Now, you know you need to find yourself.
That’s what feeling lost is: growing pains. Hard as it is, we all go through it.
There’s a myriad of immediate reasons why you may feel lost:
- you crave a significant change in your life
- you are tired (mentally, emotionally, spiritually)
- you’ve lost connection to something important
- you try to live based on other people’s expectations
- everything you do is ruled by fear, self-inflicted or not
But feeling lost can be because we’re searching for something deeper. We’re heeding a basic human instinct to look for something that will give us meaning.
What we’re looking for is purpose.
Whatever our purpose is, it’s an undeniable driving force that pushes us to do great, meaningful things. For that alone, finding yourself is an important thing to do.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~ Steve Jobs
Why is it important to “find yourself?”
Why should you find yourself? And would my answer satisfy you? Would you just be “finding yourself” in order to satisfy somebody else’s mandate?
If I tell you “find yourself,” and then you set off to comply, are you truly finding yourself? Or are you still living for others?
Here’s the thing: finding yourself helps you understand yourself.
Are you often plagued with questions such as, “why does this keep happening to me?” and “why is my life like this?”
If these questions go unanswered, we tend to get stuck on a loop, never able to get out of it. This is why it’s crucial to find yourself, to know yourself – because you will no longer feel like a passenger in your life.
And you have to do that for yourself.
You might not necessarily get all the answers. Life is not a perfect puzzle you need to solve. But when you’ve found yourself, you let go of all that nagging doubt about your purpose. Until you know yourself, your strengths, weaknesses, desires, you’ll never come close to having meaning.
I know it sounds daunting, but that’s the beauty of it! Life is beautiful and complicated!
Here are 7 steps that can show you how to find yourself.
1. Be honest with yourself
Have you ever heard of the term self-deception? It’s the habit of lying to ourselves on a daily basis as a means of keeping ourselves comfortable. It can be as small as telling ourselves we’re going to the gym when we really have no intention to, or it can be as big as deceiving ourselves into staying into a toxic relationship.
Why do we keep doing this?
In a TEDx talk called Honest Liars: The Psychology of Self-Deception, clinical psychologist Cortney Warren imparted some hard-hitting truths about the daily lives we tell ourselves.
“Humans are masters of self-deception. We fool ourselves into believing things that are false and we believe to refuse to believe things that are true.
“At the core, we lie to ourselves because we don’t have the psychological strength to admit the truth and deal with the consequences that will follow.”
Why is this dangerous?
Because it is exhausting – whether you’re conscious about it or not. It takes energy you could be using to find yourself, to build a meaningful life.
Dr. Warren adds:
“Although normative and commonplace, self-deception comes with profound costs because we live our truth whether we are honest about it or not. Self-deception is exemplified in our thinking patterns, beliefs, behaviors, emotional reactions, and relationships. Anytime our lives are driven by something outside of our awareness, is it dangerous to us and everyone around us.”
If you want to find who you really are, you first need to be honest with yourself. Stop lying about what you want, how you feel, and the face you project to the world.
It’s time to practice inner authenticity.
How do you do this? One of the first steps is to sit with yourself. Take time to think about your strengths, your weaknesses, your values, your desires, and your fears.
Are you the person you believe yourself to be? Are you the person you want to be?
Being honest with yourself can be painful, but it’s important. It helps you set your reality, and gives you a baseline for where you can go.
Even if you’re not happy with what you find, you’ll be better for having done the work.
2. Learn the art of self-knowledge
What is self-knowledge?
In Emotional Intelligence, author and science journalist Daniel Goleman describes self-knowledge as the “ongoing attention to one’s internal states.” According to psychologists, self-knowledge is the ability to see and understand one’s emotions, thoughts, and motivation patterns.
Simply put, it’s the ability to look at your inner self – your emotions and thoughts – and noticing how they influence your thinking and behavior.
Honesty is the first step. The next step is introspection.
It’s similar to being honest with yourself, but it’s a further step. It’s about understanding how our thinking and emotional states arise — and how they influence us.
What does this have to do with finding yourself?
Our behavior is a reflection of our thoughts and emotions. We mirror what we think and feel. Understanding our emotions and the reasons behind them, according to Goleman, “allows us to examine closely, in detail and in depth, the processes by which we think, feel, and behave.”
Self-knowledge gives us a sense of self-worth. It allows us to stay rooted in our values and goals. Without it, we feel lost, undervalued, unworthy. Furthermore, having no self-knowledge makes us look out into the world for happiness. It distracts us from truly looking into ourselves, and denies us the chance to know who we are.
3. Don’t dwell on your past, but reflect on it
Our past is important. It is our foundation. We are who we are today because of what we have done and experienced in the past.
The past is a powerful teaching tool. It reinforces our successes and conditions us to not repeat our failures.
But sometimes, these failures don’t just teach us — they overwhelm us.
What we wind up doing is turning this powerful tool against us.
Research clearly shows that when we fail to process our past, we become stuck with all the pain that comes with it. Whether we take on blame, disassociate, or attempt to bury our memories, we are not making sense of what happened to us, thus, bringing our past into the present.
And when we are inhibited by the weight of our past, it becomes impossible to find out who we really are in the present moment.
Instead, we only see a failed version of our pasts that we’ve created in our imaginations
So what can you do to move on? How can you not be a victim of your own past? How can you avoid dwelling on your past mistakes and trauma?
By trying to make sense of our past instead of ruminating on it.
Dr. Daniel Siegel, UCLA School of Medicine clinical professor of psychiatry, says that making sense of our past simply means “trying to understand cause-effect relationship: what is happening and why it happened.”
Because when it comes down to it, who we are now is shaped by our memories. Our past explains who we are in the present.
Your past is an important part of figuring out who you are.
4. Learn to differentiate
Differentiation. It is the process of separating yourself from external influences and past identities to become who you truly are.
In his book The Self-Under Siege: A Therapeutic Model for Differentiation, Dr. Robert Firestone writes that it is crucial “for people to live their own own lives and fulfill their destinies, they must differentiate from destructive environmental influences.”
Throughout our lives, we have been heavily influenced by external forces (our parents, teachers, etc) and various interpersonal experiences that either support our journey to finding ourselves or destroys it.
Part of finding yourself is differentiating from these negative influences. Rather than following a prescribed identity, you’ll be able to find who you really are. Only then can you develop and sustain your own unique identity.
How do you start differentiating?
Ask yourselves these questions:
- Whose life am I really living?
- Do I have my own set of beliefs, values, and motivational patterns?
If you come to the realization that you’re living your life based on other people’s expectations, Dr. Firestone has four essential steps for you.
- Separate from the destructive attitudes that were directed towards you.
- Differentiate from the negative traits of your parents and their defenses.
- Separate from the defenses you use to cope with elements of your childhood.
- Develop your own adult values system and approach to life.
Break these defenses. There were reasons why we’ve developed them. They were essential, after all, essential for our emotional survival. But now that you are an adult. These external forces are no longer functional and necessary. They are only keeping you stuck to the past. Now, it’s time to be your own unique self.
5. Lean on the power of your relationships
No one goes through life alone. Friendships, romantic relationships, and familial bonds all contribute to who we are.
I know that sometimes these relationships can put stress on you, and I know that the power of these relationships can end up pushing you to live a life that isn’t truthful; but your healthy relationships are valuable tools to help you along life’s journey.
Assess your relationships. Ensure that the people in your life are positive people who value you for who you are. Ensure that you aren’t being held back by toxic relationships that inhibit you from living your best life.
Once you’ve separated the wheat from the chaff, then lean on your friends and family to help you through this tough time. Talk to them! Ask your older relatives how they navigated these feelings.
Vent to your friends! Chances are that they’re going through this same difficult process. Commiserate! Bounce ideas off of each other.
Even if you don’t get a concrete path forward, you’ll feel safer, more secure, and definitely more grounded.
As they say, “it’s the journey, not the destination.” The power of friendships over a lifetime exemplify this more than any other step.
6. Explore your passions
This one is my favorite step. Think about your passions: is it painting? Accounting? Mettalurgy (hey, I don’t know)?
Whatever they are, take some time to simply explore them.
This doesn’t mean dropping everything to become a professional horseback rider with zero experience (if horseback riding is your passion).
It means maybe buying some horseback riding lessons for the weekends.
Just go out there and give it a shot. Don’t give yourself a metric for success. The success is simply in the exploration. Maybe you love it! Maybe you hate it.
Maybe you love it but you’re terrible at it.
Who knows? But the point isn’t to go in trying to figure out “who you are” as defined by “what you excel at.” Instead the point is to get to know what you like to do.
Chances are, you’ll find out that there are things you enjoy that you have a gift for.
After that, simply keep plugging along. It might not give you an immediate “great awakening,” but your newfound proficiency will give you confidence as you continue your journey of how to find yourself.
7. Find your purpose
“If you cannot find meaning in your life, it is your responsibility to create it.”
Perhaps there is no other book that explains this sentiment as beautifully as Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. The Holocaust survivor experienced the most unspeakable horrors under Nazi rule – being separated from his wife, almost starving to death, and working as a slave.
And yet, through it all, he came to the most astounding realization. Armed with his psychiatric and neurological knowledge, he used his experiences to make a discovery. That humans can survive almost anything, as long as they hold tightly to a sense of meaning and purpose.
How will you find it?
Paradoxically enough, Frankl believes you shouldn’t actively search for meaning. In his book, he says:
“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”
He means that you shouldn’t think of finding purpose as a goal, but a side effect of achieving other goals. He insists that “you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
There is no one clear journey to finding your purpose. But what you can do is connect yourself to activities or things that make you feel great, something that gives you worth. For some, it could involve educational attainment. For others, it simply means having healthy, loving relationships. To you, it may even be both.
Experiment. Explore. And take it easy on yourself. Eventually, you’ll find meaning, if you are open to it.
8. Unleash your personal power
When I was on my journey of self-discovery, I ended up turning to Rudá Iandê’s “Out of The Box” a 16-week program designed around self-discovery, reclaiming your agency, and unleashing your power.
One of the most profound things I learned was this concept of “shadow.” “Shadow” is the part of ourselves that we wall off. It’s the part of us we consider dark, shameful, or deviant.
It’s the false “negativity” that we hope to erase rather than accept.
In Out of the Box, Rudá showed me that this shadow wasn’t something to be fought against. Instead, it was something to embrace.
Think about it: this shadow is a part of me. It’s a part of you. When you wall it away, you end up dividing yourself.
To find yourself, you need to make yourself whole again. That means embracing the parts of you that you and society have decided are “not good enough.”
When you embrace your whole personhood, you learn to fight for yourself, not against yourself. Fighting for your whole self allows you to redirect that energy you used dividing yourself in two. Now, that energy is directed at self-actualization.
Rudá says, “All these contradictions, inner conflicts, dramas and emotions brewing inside of us at all times are beautiful and sacred. This chaos is our human nature! Instead of trying to keep it contained, we can relax into it and see the beauty that’s there…. But when you really embrace it and go there, when you bring all of that energy to nourish your consciousness and to materialize it (meaning that you put it outside of yourself, with focus, that’s creativity. That’s true self-actualization. Then you are really aligned with your nature and what makes you unique. The authentic core is not your supposed “higher self,” it’s the burning volcano within.”
That’s unleashing your personal power. Unleash that volcano!
Alternative ways to help you find yourself
That was my process to find myself and unleash my personal power. But that 8-step process isn’t for everyone.
You don’t need to follow a strict plan to find yourself. In fact, you shouldn’t. As much as possible, don’t pressure yourself. It will only ruin the experience for you.
Everyone has different ways of thinking about themselves. Some people think about their upbringing and traumas as something that made them who they are today. Others tend to get stuck on it, brooding and inhibiting themselves from a healthy future.
Unfortunately, a lot of us tend to do the latter. We focus on our fears and get carried away by our anxiety. We become mentally exhausted and fall into depression.
When you find yourself, you get a deep sense of security and confidence.
But with so many ways to find yourself, how and where do you start?
For starters: be open. Be open to new experiences, new methods, and changes.
Being closed off will never allow you to find yourself. You’ll never progress.
Be open. Try out new methods. Figure out what works best for you. And don’t get discouraged!
Embrace the power of talking. Open up! Try to have an honest conversation with someone insightful. Even better, talk to a trained psychologist. Simply talking about your feelings, and having someone ask questions, will give you clarity about yourself.
Moreover, there are various other traditions and cultures throughout history that can help you explore yourself. Here are some alternative ways to find yourself.
Buddhist traditions put emphasis on self-knowledge and raising deeper awareness of our mental states. The practice of meditation, particularly, is central in all Buddhist teachings.
Insight meditation or Vipassana, for example, is the realization of important truths. This kind of meditation gives clear awareness of exactly what is happening in your life as it happens, and why.
And before you disregard meditation, you should know that even in the world of psychology and neuroscience, mindfulness meditation has gained undeniable traction.
Meditation can reduce negative feelings, as research shows. It helps alleviate feelings depression and anxiety. Furthermore, meditation can increase positive emotions such as gratitude, confidence, and contentment.
In fact, therapies that integrate meditation have shown positive results in improving mental health.
You’ll be surprised at the amazing benefits keeping a journal has on your mental health. Like meditation, journalist helps you have a clearer understanding of your thoughts and emotions. Nothing will help you better in life, than knowing who you are and having a deep understanding of how and why you think the way you do.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling helps you;
- Helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
- Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors
- Tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them
- Manage anxiety
- Reduce stress
- Reduce stress
You might have heard of shamanic rituals already, and automatically dismissed it. Perhaps to you, it sounds too hocus-pocus. However, you’ll be surprised to know that many people practice the art of shamanic healing, and attest to its wonderful benefits, too.
Shamanism is an ancient form of spiritual healing. Its practice and traditions have been used to heal illnesses, mental and emotional pain, and was even known to fix disharmony in tribes and communities of past civilizations.
How can this help you find yourself?
The purpose of shamanic healing practice is centered on “soul retrieval.” The principle is to gather as much of your life force to help you live your life to the greatest human degree you possibly can. Shamanism has less to do with being sacred or ancient – it’s simply a natural expression of life.
According to Conscious Lifestyle Magazine,
“Soul retrieval is one of the most effective and well-known shamanic healing practices to restore lost life force. The loss of life force is known as soul loss, and this can take place when we suffer a trauma, have an accident, separate from a partner, experience the death of a loved one, or go through a pervasive period of difficult circumstances.”
If you want to try a shamanic healing practice, check out this self-healing guided meditation by Rudá Iandê.
Finding yourself is an important journey. It starts with an awakening — realizing that you are lost. Where the journey goes from there is different from person to person.
It can be scary. Change is hard. But don’t let the fears of the future hold you back from achieving self-actualization.
Finding yourself is not about finding something you deem good or bad in you. It’s about accepting who you are and being willing to change the parts that you are not proud of.
Part of the journey of life is realizing that you have complete control of how you react to it. Are you going to be weighed down by it? Or will you use it to fuel you, motivate you, make you the best version of yourself?
The answer is up to you.