I had no idea who I was most of the time while growing up. But with conversations with other people, it seems like everyone goes through similar phases.
Growing up, we aren’t taught to think about our self-concept or even have reasonable expectations about what we can do with our lives. Yet, we are told that we’re special but aren’t given any guidance on making sense of our lives or who we are. Self-knowledge takes time to discover but can have profound benefits.
I have never felt like I fitted in, nor did I have any idea of who I was, but as my life experience has grown, I’ve come to understand myself much better than before.
Keep on reading if you are curious about what changed and how I grew into a more self-aware person.
I Had No Idea Who I Was
In a previous article, I wrote about having no idea what to do with my life. In that article, I suggested we don’t get taught how to think about the direction of our lives. In other words, we get taught how to be a good employee but don’t get much guidance on figuring out what we should specifically do for ourselves.
I also talked about how the way we are taught or how we see the world determines how we think about our problems and solve them.
If we don’t have the tools for understanding ourselves or the opportunities that exist, it is challenging to make good decisions about where we should go with our lives.
For a long time, I had a lot of trouble figuring out what I was supposed to do with my life. Then, when I graduated high school, my dad told me I should go to university to study computer science because that was what I was good at.
While I agreed with him, I wouldn’t say I liked the idea of having to sit at a computer for the rest of my life. So instead of doing what seemed suited for me, I decided to study biology, which seemed more interesting at the time.
While I was at university studying to be a scientist, once again, I found myself feeling like something wasn’t right, either that I didn’t fit in or I wasn’t following my true calling. These feelings resulted in me changing my major multiple times, and in the end, I just graduated to get it over with so that I could move on with my life.
After graduation, I applied to any job I could find; I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do; all I knew was that I needed a job to start paying off my debt. Those times felt like a constant struggle because I was forcing myself to get excited or show excitement about something that I didn’t care about. And while I’d like to say it gets better, even to this day, I still have to pretend to care about things that don’t interest me.
But before you call me a snowflake, let me say I know that my experience isn’t unique, and I realize that we all need to find jobs and get paid for things that people are willing to pay for.
However, I also suspect that some people find it easier to ‘fit in’ and go along with the crowd. But this isn’t because they aren’t different; rather, they don’t think or worry about the problem. In this sense, ignorance can be bliss.
With some life experience behind me, I can confidently say that back then, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, or more accurately, I didn’t have any self-awareness.
So instead of chasing after what I wanted, I ignored myself and did what I was supposed to do.
After struggling with some dead-end jobs in Canada, I took a chance with an English teaching job in Korea. While that job wasn’t all that engaging, exciting or authentic, it did give me time to think about what I wanted from life and who I was supposed to be. Stepping away from all the social signals of home allows us to self-reflect and get a sense of who we are on our own.
With that time abroad, I had a chance to discover what I liked doing and what I wanted to do more. As a result, I read tons of difficult books, tried to build websites, and did the LSAT as a final attempt to try and fit into the mould that society had set. In the end, failure to get into law school pushed me back towards computer science and a skill set that I already had and was passionate about.
At the end of college, in my web development program, we had to present our work to the program’s instructors. While I got mostly positive feedback, the head of the program said, “I have no idea who you are, you don’t have a distinct style, and there is no way to see how these projects are connected or representative of you.”
In a sense, what he said kind of hurt, but at the same time, I realize that he expected me to fit into the designer-developer model that the program was supposed to create. His expectations made sense cause that is how you sell yourself for a job, but it is also limiting if you have a different plan for yourself.
After this experience, I also realized that my style was a sort of lack of style. The professor might have suggested that I didn’t know who I was, which was true to some extent, but he was also expecting me to fit into a box that I couldn’t fit.
While I have rambled on here, the point remains, we often don’t know who we are because we don’t know how to answer that question. This happens because we aren’t taught to think about the problem in the first place.
While there are cookie-cutter solutions to the question of “who are you?” most people aren’t designed for those options.
So instead, we need to embrace that we might not know who we are and then work towards figuring it out.
How To Discover Yourself
Self-discovery is a process of uncovering who we are and is often the topic of novels, movies and other sorts of media. Self-discovery is also a process that happens over time rather than right away or in an instant.
For myself, I’ve felt that all of my adventures and life experiences have given me lots of chances to learn more about who I am. Because of that, I’d advocate going on an adventure or travelling alone, as that time could be very educational.
As far as a program is concerned, I found Self Authoring by Jordan Peterson to be very helpful in getting a sense of who I am and what I should be doing.
That said, there are lots of quizzes and self-assessments that you can find online. Often they provide some insights into your personality and skills, with suggestions of where you should put more of your focus. However, one thing to keep in mind is that any test online is destined to be flawed and unable to give you all the answers you are looking for.
For me, I’ve done a lot of these tests and have learnt a little about myself, mostly things that I sensed but may not have been able to describe or put into words. The key is that these tests give you a chance to learn more and develop into the person you are supposed to be.
Self-discovery is likely something that will come with time; whether or not it comes soon enough for you to take the right actions is a different question.
But I’d say, if you are curious enough to ask “who am I,” then you are presumably better off than all the people who don’t think to ask that question at all.
What Is Self-Concept
This leads to the idea of self-concept, which is “a collection of beliefs about oneself,” and it serves to answer the question of “who am I?” Our self-concept is made up of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and while they might not be stories per se, they are memories and thoughts that summarize what we think about ourselves.
A belief about yourself might be something like “I am shy,” and one could also believe this describes actions like “I wouldn’t talk much at a party.” You could also remember examples of times when you went to parties or group activities where you were quiet or didn’t say much. While these ideas might accurately describe how we feel about ourselves, they might not reflect what other people think.
What is crucial, though, is that we have a massive pile of similar stories that we use to internally describe ourselves and make sense of who we are and what we do.
Our self-concept comes together with self-knowledge, which is our answer to the question “what am I like.”
In other words, self-knowledge is about being aware of your current attitudes, character and habits. It is also related to self-esteem, which looks at how you feel about your qualities. For example, you might be a great singer, but you won’t take advantage of that skill if you feel negative about your singing.
While all these aspects of self represent different components of who we are, they all play an essential role in helping us make sense of ourselves. And while we might not be able to answer the question of who we are entirely to our satisfaction, keeping these lenses in mind will help give us some direction in the sorts of questions we need to ask ourselves.
If you have no idea who you are, it might be necessary to embark on an adventure, take a chance to try and discover who you are by trying something outside your comfort zone.
Try out different things; you might find things that please you and encourage you to develop yourself even more. In essence, you need to be willing to fail to discover who you truly are. So be willing to try out some things that you might not be interested in, as they may lead you to other, more relevant options.
Next, try and take advantage of some of the tools online to give yourself an idea of who you are or what personality traits you possess. Remember, the internet is filled with garbage, but there are always some gems.
Notwithstanding, anything that helps you gain a little bit of self-knowledge is worth some consideration.
Finally, remember that all your experiences and how you think about yourself come together to define who you are. In some ways, it is up to you to decide; in others, you don’t have a choice about what stories or events stick. But remember, you can always expand your horizons through new experiences.
To conclude, I’m not going to say this process will definitively answer the question, but it might help you get your foot in the door towards self-discovery and being able to answer the question of “who am I?”