(Have you tried the Monday Challenge yet? You won't be disappointed. Give it a whirl!)
There’s a full length mirror in the hallway in our building that my wife and I both like. It stretches you out, so if you’re short, like my wife, it projects you as being a bit taller. And if you’re built like a brick shithouse, like me, it almost gives you the illusion of being lean. But even mirrors that reflect more accurate dimensions don’t tell us much about ourselves. Self-reflection doesn’t always work either. It can help, but there are really only a couple of things that can give us an accurate picture of who we are. The first is the way others see us. The role we fill in their eyes. (the caregiver, the comic, the perky happy girl, the intellectual, etc…) Who they believe we are matters, because we usually act to meet people’s expectations. (Which is why you always hear psychologists talk about setting high standards when you’re leading people, for example.) The second, but more important way to understand who we are is to figure out the self-narrative that drives our actions. If your life was a story (and it is), what would that story be? If there was a film about your life, what would the theme be?
Until we know we are, or at least understand the narrative that drives us, it’s impossible to think about pursuing our dreams. Over the years, I've worked with a number of young adults who had no idea what their dreams were, no idea what they wanted from life. Now part of that goes back to our environment as a child, how healthy or unhealthy it was, and subsequent issues as a result of it. And sometimes it’s clear to people what they want at an early age. I have friends who wanted to be writers when they were twelve, and have never wavered. But for the rest of us (I didn’t figure out the writing bug until I was twenty three) even the concept of dreaming isn’t part of our makeup. Or maybe we had a dream, but for whatever reason, the opportunity passed us by, and now we’re supposed to “move on”, but have no idea how to do that.
The easiest way to understand who you are, is to figure out what stories you find compelling. What kind of books do you like? What kind of movies do you watch? Why do you like certain types of music or certain bands? There’s a reason you like action films with strong female leads (as rare as that is). There’s a reason why you like that indie band that talks about life in the suburbs.
Humans connect to one another through story. That’s the link, and it’s the reason certain people connect more easily to some than others. Look at your friends. Why do you like them? What is it that you find so compelling about them? What’s their story?
There are other ways to figure out who you are, of course. Like taking a personality test. (I recommend the Myers-Briggs) But understanding the story you tell yourself is more important than even understanding the particular characteristics of your personality. We profoundly influence ourselves more than any person we’ll ever meet, and often that persuasion is negative. We tell ourselves that we’re just a mother, just another guy at the post office, just another ______.
This week, take a few minutes to think about the stories that you identify with, and ask yourself why they register. Why they mean so much to you. Once you begin to understand your story, you’re ready to change it. To create something new and profound. It won’t happen all at once, but if you're patient, you'll find the journey more rewarding than you ever imagined.