Whether you’re moving jobs, going through a major life change, or just struggling to find your way, deciphering who you are and what you want from life can be challenging. Perhaps you feel frustrated and out of sorts with the world? Maybe you’re even having a little identity crisis?
These thoughts and feelings are perfectly normal. At some point in your life, you might assume you should know yourself better – know what you want, who you are, how you’re supposed to find your happy place. Unfortunately, busy lives often get in the way of helping you find clear headspace to answer these important ‘life’ questions. However, there are activities that you can utilise to help you to get to know yourself.
Who are you?
Of course, you instantly recognise yourself when you look into a mirror. But how well do you really know the person reflected back at you? Does the image you see really sum up the person you are inside? Do others see you and know you, as you know yourself?
Like most people, you’ll probably look at your physical reflection and wish there might be something you could change. But what about the person inside the body? What would you like to change about the person you are? Would you like to change that chattering voice in your head that keeps telling you ‘no’? Would you like to grow feelings of confidence and self-belief? Would you like to learn how to express yourself better, such that people don’t just see the physical you – they understand the whole person?
If the answer is yes, then there’s good merit in getting to know yourself better – either through a career journaling notebook or through starting a blank journal – answering key questions about yourself, focusing on activities that support your development, both personally and professionally. Even just creating a narrative or building a clear story of who you are and what you have to offer an employer is life-changing. When you have that ‘pitch’ down clearly in your head, you’ll start to feel more confident about describing just who that person in the mirror really is…and that’s the gateway into a journey of self-discovery that never has to end.
Why should you get to know yourself?
When you know yourself better, you’ll understand your own needs and desires. You’ll perhaps recognise your strengths and weaknesses or development gaps. Self-awareness means you can accurately assess your emotional reaction to things – knowing what happens when the positive buttons are pressed, but also the buttons that create a negative response! Building self-awareness means you can look back to the past, understanding who you were then, versus the person who stands before you today.
However, self-awareness isn’t just about knowing yourself and what makes you tick. It’s also about appreciating how others see you – how you ‘translate’, if you like, through your looks, actions, values, and beliefs. When you appreciate how others might experience you (and you are able to shape your behaviour to account for this), you will have reached a deep level of self-understanding and awareness.
Being in touch with these elements of yourself can help you realise where you want to go in life and the career path you want to take. It can help you focus on your ultimate goals and dreams and how you might navigate a path toward them. Actively working towards these things is sure to fill you with purpose and direction – just what you need to feel motivated and full of energy.
Here are a few reasons why it’s beneficial to get to know yourself:
- Knowing who you are, leads to accepting who you are. Once you’ve accepted who you are, you can be your true self
- When you let your feelings and values drive your actions, you’re less likely to experience inner conflict and doubt about doing the wrong thing
- Understanding your likes and dislikes means you’ll be able to make better choices about everything; from what shampoo to buy, to what direction to take in your next career move
- You may have a stronger sense of self-control. By understanding what triggers negative feelings or behaviour, you’ll be able to say no to or resist bad habits
- You’ll be more confident saying ‘no’, when you may have previously felt the social pressure to say ‘yes’
- Your awareness of your own weaknesses and struggles can help you empathise with others
- Being who you truly are makes your life richer, larger, and more exciting.
Starting to get to know yourself
So, how can you be more self-aware and get to know yourself better? When you meet someone new and are trying to get to know them, you ask them questions to coax out and invite information about their personality and their life. You can get to know yourself in the same way.
Yes, it takes some deep thinking. It may even throw up some feelings and emotions that you don’t like. This is part of the self-discovery process. If getting to know yourself better feels uncomfortable it probably means that you are asking yourself the right questions.
But remember – you don’t have to go on this journey alone. If you prefer private contemplation, then that’s fine. If the process makes you feel negative, alone, or frightened in some way, reach out for help. This might be to a family member or friend. Alternatively, there are many charities out there who specifically exist to lend an objective and sympathetic ear. The Samaritans are there for everyone.
Let’s get started with some warm-up questions. Go grab a pen and paper and let’s begin the exploration into who you really are.
What words describe you?
Before you start thinking deeply about who you are, start by writing down any words that say something about you. These could be words used by people you know to describe who you are. It could be words from your CV, your social media platforms, or words that come to mind when you look at pictures of yourself. Let your ideas sit with you for a moment before jotting them down. Don’t feel self-conscious or constrained and write as much as you feel is necessary to capture a written picture of who you are.
You might find words that describe your character, your beliefs, or fundamental values. For example; ‘I thrive being in the company of others, I’m outgoing, social and fun to be with. I like to work independently, I’m quiet, reflective, and sincere’.
You don’t need to be limited by writing down positive words either. Sometimes the words that best describe you right now might be negative – and that’s ok. You are trying to find out who you are and that can include thoughts and feelings you’d rather not be having. For example, you might write; ‘I’m disappointed with my career, I’m lonely, I’m distracted and frustrated, or unhappy’.
When you’ve spent significant time on this exercise (perhaps coming back to it and number of times over a few days), think about drawing out a summary from your journaling. Create a short paragraph that describes who you are in a few sentences – this is your elevator pitch!
When you’ve done this, go back over the summary and remember that age-old question – ‘describe yourself in three words?’ Try and have an answer for this when you finish this exercise. What adjectives build the foundations of your fundamental self?
What do you like?
We all find enjoyment in different things, and it’s important to be aware of what makes you feel happy. This could be anything from reading, to exercising, to travel. Again, don’t feel constrained in your answers. Start by having a think about what you like doing when you’re not working. Our hobbies and how we spend our spare time say a lot about us. Do you like being outdoors? Do you prefer being alone to being in a group? Do you like being active and physical, or do you prefer to engage your brain with a good book or TV series?
Also think about what you like doing at work, if applicable. What makes you feel most valued? What makes you feel most fulfilled? Do you like working as part of a team, or do you work better independently? Do you like being challenged, or does this make you feel stressed and worried? The way you behave in the workplace and how you react emotionally to different situations can also help you learn a lot about yourself.
What do you dislike?
On the other end of the spectrum, knowing what you dislike is also really important. List the things that you find difficult and stressful. Ask yourself; what irritates me? What do I find myself avoiding doing? What makes me feel uncomfortable? Again, consider these things with respect to your work life, and your home life.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself trying or pretending to like things that other people like, or that you feel you should like. It can be beneficial and rewarding to be able to admit that you don’t like something and own this feeling. There’s no shame in saying ‘no’ to things that you know you won’t enjoy. Become comfortable and confident in what you don’t enjoy as well, as what you do.
When you look back over your lists of likes and dislikes, does it feel in balance? Are you feeling uplifted and energised by all the things you like about yourself and your place in this world? Are you feeling more drained by the things you dislike? We call this your energy ledger and if you follow this link, you can learn more about whether your ledger is ‘in’ or ‘out’ of balance and what to do about correcting it.
What are you good at?
It’s quite common to feel ambitious for success, without really knowing what you want to succeed in. Realising what you are good at can direct you to a career path or a path in life that will allow you to pursue those passions. Success comes in different forms for everyone, whether you pride yourself on your ability to stay organised and meet deadlines at work, or on making a fantastic roast dinner.
Write down as many things that you can think of that you’re good at. What do people compliment you on? What environments do you thrive in? Knowing what you do well forms a large part of your identity and can help shape your life in and out of work. It’s also worth thinking about what activities and hobbies came easily to you as a child, as these may reveal an innate talent.
If you’re struggling to think of more than a few things, ask a family member or close friend for ideas. Knowing what traits and skills other people admire in you can be really helpful – not to mention something positive to look back on if you are having a bad day or a moment when you find yourself questioning who you really are and what you want from life.
What drives you?
Having ‘drive’ or motivation for achieving things in life, pushes us forwards. This motivation is what gets us out of bed in the mornings. No one wants to spend their lives chasing the things they don’t really want, so it’s important to recognise what it is in life that drives and motivates you so that you can focus on and maximise it.
Make another list of these things – big and small. Is it money? Is it helping people? Is it a desire to meet deadlines and goals? Think about your daily routine and what propels you through it. Are you motivated to wake up earlier than you need to in order to practice some yoga or enjoy a coffee before work? It can be quite difficult to pinpoint what it is that motivates you, so take your time with this activity. Whatever it is, by realising what your driving force is, you can find effective ways to motivate yourself in new activities or projects.
If you find yourself writing down similar words to the ones you wrote when you described your likes and dislikes – this is good! It shows that there is consistency in your thinking. It means that you have a clear idea about who you are and what you want. If you find there is less consistency or you are struggling to simply find the right words, don’t worry. Take your time. Ask others for feedback. Read stories about people you admire – what do those stories tell you about that person? What are the qualities that you admire in that person? Are these qualities that you want to embrace for yourself?
Your personal brand or image
Social media has a lot to answer for when it comes to personal brand and image. Some of that is good, and some of it is downright unhelpful. For this reason, we can’t ignore the fact that we all have a brand or image (even if we think we don’t). The physical way you look obviously defines some of your image, but it goes beyond that.
The choices you make about what you wear says something about you. The way you represent yourself on social media through static pictures and videos does the same. The way you hold yourself (things like your gait and non-verbal behaviour) all come into play in describing who you are. Even who you hang out with and who you are seen with through imagery, all says something about brand ‘you’. When getting to know yourself better, you can’t, therefore, ignore image (how you look) or brand (how your look is interpreted by others).
One way to get to know yourself better is to create a collage of pictures or iconography that summarises who you are. This can be done digitally by creating an avatar of who you are, or a Pinterest board of images, GIFs, and videos. This can also be done by creating a physical mood board – where you take magazines and cut out images or words that speak to you – making a pictorial collage. How you choose to create your masterpiece is down to you!
When you’ve created a picture of you – your image and brand, spend some time describing it to someone who knows you well. Do they recognise this person? Is this the way they would describe you? What might they add or subtract? It’s always worth doing this exercise to see if you are describing who you’d like to be, or who you actually are. There’s no harm in doing either, but it’s good to recognise the difference.
Bringing your reflections together
If you’ve put careful thought and work into the exercises above it’s likely that a few weeks (maybe even months) have flown by. Not everyone finds doing this stuff easy – in fact, from experience, we’d say most people find it challenging.
Now that you have more detailed information about yourself – your likes, dislikes, what you’re good at, what drives you, your image, and brand, you can start to put these things to good use.
Here are just a few applications to get you going:
- If you have one, take a look at your CV. Does it reflect what you now know about yourself? How could you update it to make it really zing?
- When applying for your next job online, what summary will you use to sell yourself? Get that narrative prepared ahead of time, using the information you have
- Take a look at your social media. Does it really say what you want it to say about you? Would you serve yourself better by giving it a bit of a refresh? What things might a prospective employer see that would impress them?
- When you’re next up having a performance or coaching conversation with your boss, how might you explain what motivates and demotivates? How could you use the language that you have discovered, to explain to your boss how to get the best out of you?
- Now that you’re more self-aware, take some time out to think about how your friends, family, and work colleagues might be experiencing you. Is there anything you might want to tweak to help build better relationships?
We hope you’re now all fired up, thinking about your own life-plan, goals, and dreams. Buy yourself a beautiful new journal, take what you’ve learned, and use it to plan for your best future yet!
These questions simply scratch the surface when it comes to getting to know yourself. Looking to delve a little deeper? Check out our ‘Getting to know me better’ Notebook Mentor, packed full of questions and activities to help you in your journey to self-awareness.