how to know who you are 101

Today in class, our professor chose what many people may consider one of the world’s hardest questions as an icebreaker. He requested that after he called our name, we would tell the class our answer to the question “Who are you?” Although my last name puts me fairly high on the attendance list, there were many people who spoke before me that answered this with confusion and lack of surety. “I have no idea who I am”, “I don’t know the answer to that question”, “I’m here to find out”, and so on. This truly shocked me. Surely, not every person on the planet can have complete self awareness and understanding, but at least a little bit? Apparently not.

I feel as though many people do not understand what it means to know who they are and that is why they feel unfit to answer that question.

So today, I have decided to teach my own condensed class on how to know who you are. Enjoy!

Step 1: Remind yourself of what you do know: the concrete things about yourself.

Each person on this earth should have a few things about them that they are sure of. Whether that be where you live, what you do on a day to day basis, your gender, your age, your goals, your name, and so on, it is usually something. Although we all may not know all of those, we should all know at least a few.

Step 2: Accept that a large part of who you are is pretty much as far from concrete as it gets.

Who we all are is incredibly fluid and constantly changing. From year to year, month to month, day to day, and even second to second, who we are is evolving and developing. As we learn and experience, different ideas and events that we are exposed to can change our perspectives and even sometimes our core values. The more we know, the more likely ‘who we are’ is going to change. Often, the illusion that we have to be able to describe who we are in a few short minutes and in an organized and simple matter is what holds us back from realizing that we do actually know who we are. Who we are is one of the most complicated concepts, despite its simplicity (see step 5). It is not something that we can summarize quickly or efficiently. It would take decades for one to truly comprehend who someone else really was… even then, difference in perspective can inhibit full understanding. We change constantly, and accepting that will put us one step closer to knowing who we are. The answer to that question is something that changes second by second, but if we are aware of ourselves second by second, we will still be able to grasp that answer. Our nature, our nurture, our past experience, our family life, our intelligence, our aspirations, our successes, our failures, our habits, our quirks, and so much more all play into our answer to ‘who we are’.

Step 3: Realize that who you want to become plays a huge role in who you are.

A friend of mine told me that she struggled with the difference between who she was now and who she wanted to become. She asked “If I want to be a kind person, does that mean that I am a kind person?” Who you want to become is a huge part of who you are. Look at it this way: if I want to become a more courageous person, I am someone who wants to be more courageous. I am someone who wants to become better, therefore I am someone who wants to become better. It is as simple as that. Goals and aspirations make up a large part of who a person is. Without thought for the future, and things to work towards, it is hard to find yourself, let alone be able to describe that to others. I want to be a professional writer one day. I am a writer now, but I am also currently an aspiring professional writer. This, of course, plays into the fluidity of each individual’s answer to ‘who are you’. But it is important to accept that who you were in your past and who you aspire to be in your future both play roles in who you are right now.

Step 4: Take time alone, free of distractions, to reflect on yourself. (sorta cringe but highly essential)

If you don’t think that you know who you are, find out: get to know yourself. In past times, before I discovered who I am, I would constantly fill my head with outside stimulus to escape the scary thought of having to spend time inside my own head. However, once I started to allow myself time with no music, no TV, no people, no book, no action, I began to get to really know who I am. Spending time with no outside distractions and engaging in self reflection can be essential to discovering who you are. Be alone in your head, evaluate and reflect on your ideas and experiences and opinions and traumas and happy places and everything else. It seems a daunting task to begin with, but having a strong idea of who you are can be one of the most empowering and comforting feelings. This doesn’t have to be done in a meadow high up on a mountain or in the clear blue waters of the Maldives. Even just in a chair in your living room, or on a bench in the park. Just do some self reflection; I promise there is a lot to learn and it really isn’t as scary as it seems.

Step 5: Do not complicate this. Be honest. Listen, observe, and accept. This is about here and now.

When you realize things about you, accept them. While self reflecting, if you come to the conclusion that you are a very lighthearted person, accept that as part of yourself, and then continue with some more self reflection. If you realize something negative, do not pass by it or try to deny it in your head. Be honest with yourself in order to attain true understanding. Acceptance of the good will help you to hold onto and continue it and acceptance of the bad will help you to work towards abolishing it. Do not overcomplicate things that are clear to you. If you see a trait or a goal or an idea or an opinion, feel the power that it gives you to accept that it is part of you, and then do with it as you please.

I hope that this has been helpful in even the smallest of ways. Thanks for reading!

xo, Professor Emma