There are two things that nobody ever expects to be less than perfect. Their children and themselves.
Just as everybody thinks that their children will be beautiful, well behaved, cuter versions of themselves, when people set out to “find themselves”, what they’re expecting to find is a clear-headed, confident, well-integrated person. Someone with a sense of purpose and the will to act it out.
It may well be that within each of us there’s a version of this ideal, but that ideal isn’t who we are. That’s who we could be, which is something very different. Who we could be is limited only by our imagination. We could learn anything we don’t know. We could find the motivation and discipline to stop procrastinating, we could stop letting fear stand in our way.
There are so many things we could be, and while all of this is wonderful, none of this brings us any closer to who we are. Are. Present tense.
Luckily, figuring out who you are in the present is surprisingly simple. Set a timeframe, the last month say, and pay careful attention to the things you do when nobody else is watching.
Don’t justify away the hours when you sat on the sofa eating ice cream and watching Netflix. Don’t gloss over the fact that you still haven’t started that book that you’ve been talking about writing for however many years it is now, don’t ignore the moments when you’ve been less kind to the people around you than you should have been.
By the same token, don’t dismiss the small acts of kindness or service that you performed without hoping for anything in return. Remember the times when you saw something through, even if it was small, or when you put somebody else’s needs before your own.
Most importantly, don’t place too strong an emphasis on any of these things. Depending on your personality, you’ll tend to focus on one side and overlook the other. Instead, embrace it all.
If this process feels uncomfortable, you should take that as confirmation that you’re doing it correctly. That discomfort means that you’re taking a genuine inventory of your actions, perhaps for the first time.
If everything you see about yourself is good, you’re probably not seeing yourself at all, the same is true if everything you see is bad, so some discomfort is to be expected. And there’s more good news; you’ve just completed the first step towards turning who you are, into who you want to be.
So with that first step out of the way, you might need some way of steering this bundle of thoughts and habits that you call “you”, in the direction which you want it to go. This can seem daunting. And though there’s no single “right” way to do this, there are some steps you can keep in mind to make your progress easier.
Stop lying about who you are.
We lie to ourselves about who we are all the time but usually fail to notice it. This is because they’re lies of omission, where we conveniently forget to think about the things which we don’t like, whilst repeating the things which we are used to focusing on over and over again, usually years after they stop being relevant.
Yet we have an opportunity for honesty in our relationship with ourselves which is unmatched in every other relationship we have. We can be honest about the things we like and the things we would like to change, in a way that we might never dare in even with those we’re closest to. And once we’ve become comfortable with this honesty with ourselves, we can start being honest with other people about who we are.
It’s impossible to overstate how liberating this can be.
Figure out who you want to be.
Once you’ve figured out who you are, the next step is to figure out which aspects you’d be happier if you changed. Hopefully, it goes without saying that nobody else should have a say in which parts change or stay the same.
If you keep failing to be the person you want to be, chances are you’re wrong about who you want to be. Take this possibility seriously. Maybe who you think you want to be is actually who your parents want you to be. Or your childhood self wants you to be. If this is true, you’ll inevitably sabotage any attempts to force yourself into a mould you don’t want to be in.
Accept that things will still be hard sometimes.
There’s this fantasy that once you figure out who and how you want to be, life will become a continuous flow state. Those days where you feel demotivated, distracted or just plain shitty will be a thing of the past. This isn’t true.
There will still be days when you worry that what you’re doing sucks, or you feel demotivated, or your body still looks the same, even after all the work you’ve been putting in at the gym. Where you know that nobody will notice if you miss a day, and somehow you have to convince yourself to do the work regardless.
These are the moments when truly knowing who you want to be gets you through, and when trying to be someone you’re not leads to everything falling apart.
Keep going, life only stays easy when you’re dead.
Knowing is only the first step.
It’s one thing to know what you want to do, and another thing entirely to go out and do it. Recognising who you are, makes it easier to figure out what your goals are, and to notice when you’re not doing all you should do to achieve them, but it’s only a first step.
Reaching a point where you can look back and say that you’ve been the person you wanted to be is the work of a lifetime, and we will all fall short of perfection. That’s not the point. The point is to succeed as many times as possible along the way.