“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~E.E. Cummings
At twenty-five I was happily married and had a great career, many friends, and lots of money. During that time I also became deeply depressed, was put on medication for anxiety, and entered what would be a very long relationship with psychotherapy.
It was a real struggle for me to understand why I wasn’t happy when I had everything that I thought was important in life. Was I selfish? Were my expectations too high? I honestly couldn’t understand what was missing and how to fill this huge void that gnawed at me every day.
When I look back at my life, twenty years later, I realize that I really had no idea who I was or what made me happy. I kept expecting something or someone to answer this question for me.
The journey to find out who I was and what really mattered to me eventually involved divorce, the loss of my career and most of my possessions, and overcoming a serious illness.
It pretty much took the loss of everything I thought defined me and made me happy to admit to myself that I honestly didn’t know myself very well at all.
Who am I? What do I believe in? What is my purpose? What fills me with joy and wonder? These are questions that I am just beginning to understand after forty-five years of living my life, and I have to admit that getting there has been extremely difficult.
The hardest part for me was just knowing where to begin. After much therapy, meditation, self-reflection, and reading, I asked myself five big questions that served as a launch pad to begin my journey of self-discovery.
If you are ready to begin the process of truly understanding who you are meant to be, start here:
1. What or who would you be if you knew you couldn’t fail?
The risk of failure terrifies most people. How many times have you wanted to change jobs or careers, move to a new city, promote a cause that is important you, or become an expert in a certain area? Think about it. No risk of failure.
If you were 100 percent certain that you could be or do anything you wanted and not fail, do you know the answer?
2. What is your ninety-second personal elevator speech?
Probably the most important and poorly answered question in most job interviews, this is similar in nature. You can certainly include your career or career accomplishments in your personal speech, but think of this from the perspective of how you might answer this if you were making a new friend or going on a first date with someone.
How would you describe yourself so that the person asking the question would truly understand who you are and what is important to you?
3. What are your core personal values?
Personal values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live. They give you a reference for what is good, beneficial, important, useful, desirable, and constructive. Once you are able to determine exactly what values are most important to you, you can better determine your priorities.
In fact, having this information about yourself is the key to making sure your daily life is aligned with those values. If you need help defining your personal values, there is a great five-minute assessment tool here.
4. What makes you genuinely happy?
This one is closely related to your core personal values. However, ask yourself this question once you’ve really nailed down what those values are.
For example, if family is one of your core personal values, will taking a job that involves tons of travel make you happy? Take it a step further and really consider dreams you had when you were younger or currently have about what will make you truly happy.
5. If money were no object, how would you live your life differently?
Many people equate happiness and success directly to the amount of money they have. How many times have you heard someone say, “If I hit the lottery, I’d…”
But remember, this question isn’t really about money at all. It’s more about thinking outside the limits we tend to put on our aspirations and actions because things seem out of our reach financially.
You may not be able to do those exact things, but once you know what those true desires are, you expand your thinking and begin to develop a plan to work towards goals you may have never imagined possible.
These are tough questions and the answers may not come easily or quickly. In fact, I found myself having to think and re-think my answers several times. This work is hard but necessary in order to really understanding yourself on a deeper level.
While I can't say that I now know everything about myself, answering these questions completely changed the negative internal dialogue that was limiting my ability to see myself as I exist today and the me that I can become in the future.
But the biggest change came from revisiting dreams and aspirations that I had long ago put on the back burner while I was stuck in the process of “getting things done.”
My dreams of writing about things that are truly meaningful to me, finding a fulfilling and passionate relationship, being more present with my children, and discovering a higher power are all coming true now that I am focusing my energy in the right direction—and that direction was to look within.
So, find a quiet place and allow yourself plenty of time to go through and really think about each question and then just go for it. Go ahead. Begin your journey. Change direction. Create new dreams or rediscover dreams you left behind. Now that I have started, I haven’t looked back since.
Photo by varun suresh