When we’re seeking meaning, we often ask ourselves what it is we want out of life but we fail to ask the most important question of all: who am I really?
Yet, in order to identify what will bring us meaning, purpose and satisfaction, we must first answer this question.
How to Find Meaning: Asking the Right Question
Maia Aziz, PSW, CLY:, C.H.P was recently interviewed on the Discover Your Talent, Do What You Love podcast . What she said resonated with me because it mirrors so well my own conclusions on finding meaning. She argues that “When it comes to choosing our life path, society leads us to ask the wrong question: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ We should be asking ourselves, ‘Who am I?…'” She concludes that it is only with this knowledge about ourselves that we can indeed find meaning.
You Are Not Who You Think You Are
You are the sum of many parts. But, it is easier to answer what you are not, rather than what you are.
Genes. Although, your genetic material has a definite impact on your development, scientists warn that your genes turn on and off according to environmental factors. As the mother of a set of identical twin girls, I can vouch for that. My girls could not be more different.
What other people think you should be or do. Our loved-ones often have a strong influence on our life choices, but their view of us are not always an accurate depiction of who we really are. Sometimes, the decisions people make for us are based on anxiety, fear, or even their own dreams. It’s important to sift through how people see us and then compare it to how we see ourselves.
Your visible or invisible trauma or scars. Our life experiences shape us, but so does our perception of those events. The stories we tell ourselves are more powerful than the events themselves.
None of this is to say that the things listed above don’t impact your life and exert an influence on how you feel. On the contrary they can muddy the waters, distracting you from who you really are. For example, in a work setting we can feel validated and rewarded by praise from our colleagues, even when the work itself holds no meaning.
So What Is Left to Look At?
In the interest of keeping things simple, here’s a list:
- What do you truly care about?
- What do you do for fun? What can you lose yourself in for hours on end?
- How do respond to social and environmental factors?
- Sensory and Nervous System
- What stimuli are you sensitive or under responsive to? How does it affect your function, relationships and response to challenges?
- What are the qualities and skills you value in yourself?
- Character challenges
- What are your limits? Can you work on them if you identify them?
If you’re like me and you like to go more in depth, you might find the following list helpful.
How to Figure Out Who You Are & Find Meaning
First Answer These Questions
- Who am I?
- What are my values?
- What do I care deeply about?
- What activities make me lose track of time?
- Do I have talents, special skills?
- What are my challenges?
- What gives me energy?
- What gives me courage?
- What moves me emotionally?
- How do I manage relationships?
- Is there people in my life I admire and identify with? And, why?
- Do I have an ideal environment?
- What sensory stimuli do I find pleasant or unpleasant, and how do I respond to that type of input?
These questions are a good start to figuring yourself out and finding meaning. Eventually, they will clarify the ultimate question: What Do I Want to Do With My Life? If you wish to take this exercise a step further, have people close to you answer those questions as well. It can provide important insight about how you project yourself and how people see you.
The Power of Your Thoughts
Actor Mykelti Williamson once stated: “You become what you think. Don’t think of yourself as a victim or a failure. Think of yourself as a winner.” Our thoughts are very powerful and can stir us in the right or wrong direction. Our brain tries to find patterns where it can, it’s what it does. And too often it will hang on to the most to negative ones, this then becomes our truth. It does not have to be so. Instead, you should practice kind honesty towards yourself. As you’re going through this process, this means you should judge and speak to yourself much like you would speak to a loved-one or close friend.
The final step
Finally, once you have answered the questions and have identified who you are and what holds meaning in your life, try to put in writing what it all means to you. For some people, however, writing doesn’t work. In this case, I recommend recording the analysis of what you got out of the exercise on your smart phone. Or, if you’re artistic, you can sketch a visualization of what it all means to you. In any case, you’ll want to read it, look at it , or listen to it daily. This will keep you on track as you get back in touch with who you are and explore new paths.
As always, use the comment section to share your thoughts.
Photo credit: Thank you Ian Schneider (Unsplash)