3 Questions Worth Asking to Find the Right Answer for You

“Sometimes questions are more important than answers.”  ~Nancy Willard

My twenties and thirties were an endless quest for “The Answer.” As if there were only one.

The one answer that would change everything. Make everything right. Make me happy.

What Didn’t Work

I searched high and low for answers. I’d read the latest book, hoping it held the key. I’d watch to see what others said and did, assuming they had the answers.

My M.O. was simple:  read, observe, imitate, emulate.

I was always searching outside myself. 

Always thinking finding the “right” answer would hold the key to happiness and contentment.

I’d think, “This is it!” 

“This” being a new career, new city, new relationship, new wardrobe, or new hobby.

Inevitably, though, the proverbial bloom on the rose faded and whatever “this” had been became the latest thing that wasn’t.

The problem was, I never did land on the right “answer.”  All my searching and seeking deceived and misled me.  Or more honestly:  I deceived and mislead myself with all my searching and seeking.

I couldn’t understand why I kept getting the answer wrong. I was smart and resourceful. I was making an effort.

Why didn’t I seem to want what I thought I wanted? Why did my “answers” for happiness keep turning out to be wrong?

Shifting Focus

It was only years later I shifted my attention to a different part of the equation, and started to focus less on the answers and more on the questions.

And that has made all the difference.

It finally dawned on me: My answers were someone’s right answers, just not mine.

How did I come to this breakthrough?

I wish I could say it was an epiphany, which has a nice ring to it, but it didn’t have that kind of suddenness. Instead, it felt more like a wearing down and wearing away:

  • A wearing down of false assumptions, limiting beliefs, and habits that don’t serve me
  • A wearing away of others’ voices, people pleasing, shoulds, and have-tos

Asking questions of myself rather than focusing on answers I thought existed outside myself was new ground. Shaky and unfamiliar, it felt treacherous in the way the unknown and uncertain often feel. 

I realized once I started asking questions I wouldn’t be able to “unknow” what I was going to find. Yes, perhaps a bit of light and exhilaration accompanied that thought, but trepidation was certainly there too.

I remember two cautionary, albeit unhelpful, thoughts running through my mind:

  • The devil you know is better than the one you don’t.
  • Be careful—you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

What if I started asking questions of myself and even those answers were wrong? I wasn’t sure there was a Plan B for that predicament.

Leaping to the Questions

In the end, I took the leap into the deep end of the question pool.

Once I made the decision to shift my focus to the question side of the equation, an intuitive part of myself came alive.

Before that moment, I was the last person to describe myself as intuitive. If someone asked, “What does your gut tell you?” or “What does your inner voice say?”, I’d nod my head like I knew what they were talking about, but really I was thinking, “What inner voice?  Beyond telling me I’m hungry, my gut doesn’t speak to me.”

But I guess when you shift your focus, a lot of other things necessarily shift too. 

And so the first question I knew to ask myself was: Who am I?

That was the question. Three little words. Short and sweet, but oh so juicy.

Who am I? Who am I—really?

Not who I might want to be. Not who I’ve pretended to be. Not who others expect or want me to be. Not who I was yesterday, last year, or a decade ago. But who am I, really?

When I asked that question—long before I got close to any answer—I knew I was on to something big, transformative, enduring.

For the first time I really knew—head knew, heart knew, soul knew, gut knew—my answers would always be out of sync until I started living an authentic life.

So the question, “Who am I?” had to come first.

Intuitively I knew that question—Who am I?—was the right question. The one that would get me to my answer.  My very own true answer.  The answer that would free me, empower me, trust me, lead me.

The Decision to Get Real

Getting to the real Who wasn’t easy for me. I’d internalized real or imagined messages to conform, fit in, go along. I’d been conditioned to look outside myself. Often a lurking “should” in the back of my mind prodded me to the right-by-others but wrong-for-me answer.

But while it wasn’t easy to get to the Who, it also wasn’t impossible. It took, more than anything, a commitment to search within and to find within.

It came down to deep thinking and even-through-the-fear exploration of all that makes up the Who. 

I was used to telling people who I was based on a synopsis of my resume or a reflection of who I thought they wanted me to be.

So at first I couldn’t even answer the question, “Who am I?” because I really didn’t know. But I made the decision to figure it out. To figure ME out. To get to know the real me.

My own deep dive into the Who delved into many aspects of Self. For each one below, I asked myself, “Who am I—really—in relation to this aspect?”

  • abilities
  • accomplishments
  • attitudes
  • desires
  • dislikes
  • dreams
  • education
  • experiences
  • feelings
  • interests
  • knowledge
  • likes
  • mindsets
  • motivations
  • needs
  • passions
  • personal characteristics
  • personality
  • preferred environments
  • skills
  • strengths
  • talents
  • values
  • weaknesses
  • what engages
  • what gives energy

While my list may not be exhaustive, exploring those aspects of Self was more than enough for me to stop looking outside myself for answers, and clearly and confidently answer the question, “Who am I?”

I’ve long since ventured beyond my one question, because after the first, two others naturally follow: 

  • What does a life based on who I am look like?
  • How do I close the gap to live a life based on who I am?

But it all starts with the Who. With being willing to ask the question and then look within to find your right answer.

Photo by h.koppdelaney

About Jennifer Bailey

Jennifer Bailey, Strategist & Change Agent at Jennifer | 365  is the architect behind What Matters Most 365:  Life By Design®, a create-what-you-crave program for making the next 365 days your best yet.  Join Jennifer’s community to receive a weekly dose of insight and inspiration.

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  • Michellerothwrites

    I needed to hear this today. Namaste.

  • How do I close the gap to live a life based on who I am?
    That is exactly what I need to figure out

  •  Namaste to you!  Glad it resonated.

  • Thank you for the wisdom Jennifer!  Every day is a struggle to remain true to ourselves- how else can we be truly happy?  But finding out who we are in the first place is probably the hardest part 🙂

  •  Ian, you are so right!  Remaining true to ourselves can also be a challenge (there are so many “shoulds” and “have tos” in our heads), but if we don’t know Who we are in the first place then it’s a losing battle from the start.

  • Charles Tutt

    I doubt there really are any right answers for any of us. We, things, others, life, the universe just ARE. That list you presented is based on who we are based on outside social, cultural and input from others, NOT ORGANIC–REALLY PRISTINE US, I, YOU, ME, it still really leaves “us”, me, myself and I Who and/or What We REALLY ARE and Why?

    Are we automatons who all subscribe to or are  subject to some magic formula? Yes, I know that’s the story theme or outline that we’ve all been  conditioned and programmed to since birth. And while it does have some basis in real life, is it really real or, just a STORY…, imagined in our mind, the human consciousness,  or someone Else’s mind from centuries ago. (Most of those unconscious cultural things do have a lot of merit. How did they know so much way back then)?

    I personally feel it is important to question more broadly, as broadly as you can possibly imagine, and then go beyond that to search the wonderful information resources on the internet.

  •  Kerry, I wish it were a simple answer, don’t you?  I believe the path to a life truly lived follows Who –>  What –>  How.  Once we get really, really clear about Who we are, then we can start to brainstorm and experiment with the What (What is it out in the world that aligns with our Who?)  It’s ONLY then—once there’s clarity about the Who and What—that it makes sense to focus on the How. 

  • ccd

    This is great, but I want the 3 questions laid out in a neat little list! 🙂

  • Ariana

    this is great! thank you. i often wonder, whether other people have the same problem as me: staying true to themselves. i am so concerned by not annoying anyone or to act in a way, that people like me… but i know, that that way leads to emptiness and sorrow.

  •  Ariana,

    I think many people struggle with staying true to themselves—myself included. 

    Your comment made me think of something a client recently said:  “I cared so much about what people thought of me and wanted them to like me, but was so seldom true to myself that Iʼm not sure who they really liked.” 

    Exactly!  If we’re not being ourselves, who do others really know?  Who do they really like? 

    The quote above is included in a video I recently did called “Waking Up to Wanting More, Less and Different.  Check it out if it sounds interesting:

  • Feelthesun1

    I know quite a few people who really need to read this, believe it and do it.

  •  Maybe the article could be a catalyst for conversation with those in your circle!  Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  •  Your comment made me smile.  Here you go:

    Who am I?
    What does a life based on who I am look like?How do I close the gap to live a life based on who I am?

    Three little questions that pack an oh-so-powerful punch.

  • Ariana

    thank you so much for your response:) the video is eye-opening!

  • I wasn’t sure where you were going with this intuitive thinking but was glad to find out where it all ended 🙂

  • Etroutt

    This is wonderful! I love how clearly you explain your outlooks into life’s remarkably, troubling questions. I’m very passionate about this subject as well. If your able, I was I was curious ,if I may ask…how do you begin such a process of writing an article like that? Like your thought process? Any where in particular that drives this passion within?

  • MaLa SaHan

    thank you for the picture “colours of the soul”.  with its transparency it is like the soul – gentle and revealing what cannot be hidden – the truth about ourselves

  • Eva

    Jennifer well written, well said. I don’t know you but the sound of your voice says you’re reaching for your middle years. I personally love what you’ve concluded in your questions.
    Nelson Mandela says the answers aren’t the right answers unless you have the right questions( or something like that) much like what you said.

    Our middle years give many questions and when we’re open to learning we find several of the answers. Wonderful job congrats to you 🙂 may your questions continue may your peace of mind,heart and body follow.Joy

  •  Eva,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I love the Nelson Mandela quote—so true.  When I apply his perspective to my own experience:  As long as I was asking the question, “How can I find the answers outside myself?” I was never going to get my “right” answer.  So the right question does, indeed, matter!

    Thanks for commenting!

  • Betty

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you!

  • Angel Lorom

    I have been asking myself the “who am I” question a lot lately. I like your aspects of self list. I watched the “waking up” video and it made me cry and prompted me to sign up for “the catalyst” on your site. I am in the process of launching a life coaching business (or as my mentor describes it “soul” coaching) and everything I learn has been applied within. If I cannot ask myself the questions and discover the answers for me, I won’t be able to work with others to allow them to do the same. I have always been incredibly intuitive but I recently allowed myself to fully embrace that part of me and am developing that sense in such a way that for the first time ever I can truly genuinely be me. Thank you for your insight. I was just about to get busy with something else but my gut told me to click this link in my “This Week in Tiny Buddha Wisdom” newsletter first. I’m glad I did.

  •  You are so welcome, Betty.  Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.  Much appreciated!

  • Sasalool

    You know, I’ve always been looking for the answers outside myself, in others, how they speek, how they feel, how the see life, I’m always trying to understand them, analyse them, hoping in doing that , i will find what makes them happy so I can imitate and be happy too,,
    just recently, I learned that people are different and they see the world differently , what makes them happy not necisserly would make me happy
    Just recently, I realised that life revolves around ME, it’s me who speek, feel and see life, it’s my life after all and my expeirences that actually matters

    Thank you for your post

  • Jo-Anne

    Thank you…..great post

    Who am I? I AM who I have created…….a response to all my actions and reactions…….

  • Cg79

    Thank you for sharing your experiences looking outside yourself.  All I had to read was read observe emulate imitate to feel a shift inside myself.  I feel like I have tried on many different lives but am constantly dissatisfied with their feel.  I am working now to build my life and determine what that looks like.  Some sense of relief knowing that I am not the only one.  Thank you!

  •  Jo-Anne,

    I love that you are who you’ve created!  A life by design rather than default—how wonderful!

  •  Yes, all of that emulating and imitating left me feeling dissatisfied too.  You are definitely not the only one on the journey of figuring out Who you really are.  Thanks for commenting!

  • Jaguar Jan

    How wonderful Thank you. I have been circling who I am for a long time and you have given me the circuit breaker I needed.

  • Mick Wright

    I like this very much.  It seems to resonate with many people.  Funny how we think we are the only ones who’ve ever thought of this.  The truth seems to be that most everyone has had these thoughts to one degree or another.
    The difference seems to be how much we all pay attention to them. . .some ignore these inner prompts and some embrace and explore them.
    Thanks again.

  •  Oh my goodness—thanks for such a generous comment!

  •  Mick,
    I agree that we all have these thoughts to some extent.  I like your distinction of ignoring the inner prompts versus embracing and exploring them.  Thanks so much for commenting.

  • inma

    Maravilloso Ángel,  Namaste

  •  Angel,

    I love that you are embracing your intuitiveness.  I’m still a work in progress, but embracing the fullness of Who I am has made ALL the difference.  We’re all on a journey, right? 

    Best of luck with your coaching practice!

  • Maybe I’ve been asking the wrong question for the past year, “what matters most?”, because I have not found what I’m looking for and feel just as empty as when I started.

  •  Charles,

    “What matters most?” is a great question, but I’ve found it comes only after fully exploring the “Who am I?” question.  It’s only by getting really clear about Who you are that what matters starts to materialize. 

    I hope there’s more fullness than emptiness ahead.

  • ‘This has hit HOME with me…..Can’t describe what I am feeling.  Although I have asked myself the question…”Who Am I?” SEVERAL times in my life……I have not been able to pinpoint the exact QUESTIONS….as you have. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

  • K.danie

    Wow. this truly resonates with me as well. Although I am still at the point of -Impossible-. How to I START? I am just not at this stage of growth yet. I have so much hurt to resolve.

  • Aron

    Thanks for this. As of late I’ve been really bogged down with the questions of “what makes me, me?” and “Who am I” and all I was able to garner from my hours spent pondering these questions was unending frustration and a fuzzy feeling in my head, and not the nice warm kind of fuzzy. It was like anything I liked felt like it was just something I copied and didn’t truly like it…

    But I think I needed this, because after all the Meyer Briggs and personality types tests, and definitions and stereotypes and contradictory cold reading and confusion I believe now; that the answer to the questions I ask can only be answered by myself because billions of people cannot be categorised into 16 types of people, it’s not physically possible. Everyone is unique, maybe not everything about them is but their combinations of traits will; and if everyone is unique how can you possibly figure out who you are unless you ask the person who 100% identical to you… and the only person.. in the universe who is 100% you.. is you.

    If you were able to battle through that, congrats, but I think I can move forwards now after getting that off my chest. Thankyou again.

  • Andy

    How can you answer that question? “Who am I”? Who are you? Who am I? I would never know… I can only guess. I and you are a part of this universe who is capable of feeling and thinking questions like that one. Who are we? Perhaps most of us are materialistic…, earth, fire, water, air, and space. The rest is the real thing. The soul. It’s beautiful. We can connect. In that realism, you and I are no different. “Who are you”? You are same as everything else… an extension of that oneness.

  • Beautifully written.

    I recently read a passage that went along the lines of, “Who are you, if you strip away your past history and roles?” I found that question to be extremely enlightening and difficult. Your list of relational aspects is a great starting point for answering that question.

    It’s intimidating yet liberating to know that only we can truly solve the mysteries and challenges of our life.

    Kind regards,