6 ways to discover who you are
Do you know who you are? What you are about? What it is you want in life? Or do you feel like you have lost your own voice, the ability to know what you like or want and actually be able to ask for it? Perhaps you have started to question your choices, you don’t feel happy now but you aren’t sure where you want to go either. It may make you start to question your partner, your job, the way you live your life in general.
Whilst it is natural for our identity, our values and our wants in life to shift over time, sometimes the shift happens when we aren’t looking. We may be so ‘head down’ moving on a certain path or focussed on the day-to-day to-do list that we miss the shift entirely. This means that we can look up one-day and not really recognise ourselves anymore.
This sense of being lost and not being able to find a way forward is a common issue bought to therapy and can cause a lot of distress. What was once considered (somewhat patronisingly) as a ‘midlife crisis’ is now something that we recognise can happen at any point in our lives and can have a big impact on us (no sports car required!).
Signs you are feeling lost
What the heck am I doing with my life anyway? Am I even happy? What do I actually want? Feeling lost can look like:
Looking to others for validation and placing too much importance on other people’s opinions, feelings and beliefs to dictate what you do.
Feeling powerless or like you have lost your own voice.
Losing interest or joy in things you used to care about or enjoy.
Not knowing what you like anymore and struggling to assert preferences.
Losing sight of what you need and neglecting your self-care.
Considering big changes like career or relationships without knowing what is causing the unhappiness or what you want instead.
How/why do we lose ourselves?
As humans we are complex and multifaceted beings. We are not simply one thing. There are many parts of us but so often, stages in our life can mean that one (or a few) parts become the focus to such an extent that it can eclipse all the others. Work, parenting, relationships or being a carer are all common examples. It is not unusual to go on like this for years before we recognise a problem.
The trigger can come because of a sudden change like the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, our health or a loved one or our children leaving home. However, it can also be a gradual creep of acknowledgement that we are unhappy, that we no longer feel like ourselves. We don’t recognise the less dominant parts of us because they have been sidelined for so long and we struggle to remember what we are all about. What do I even like anymore?
Sometimes the way we have been living has been driven by anxiety or fear. We have prioritised certain things or focussed on achieving in order to prove ourselves - so we can feel good enough - and then one day we realise we don’t even want what we have been striving so hard for and we aren’t sure where that leaves us. Many people have told me over the years that they chose their career because it was expected by their parents or because the type of job is aspirational at it would make them feel enough. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have always worked for the next promotion but don’t actually enjoy the roles they are striving for. If we have been motivated by other people’s expectations or pushed forward by fear it can be very alien to work out what it is that YOU are all about.
What to do - How to find yourself again
If you have felt propelled, dragged or simply stuck on a particular course in life, this can be the opportunity to make an active, conscious choice. This can be quite scary. Where do I start? How do I figure out what I want? Does it mean I have to quit my job? leave my partner? Do I have to make big changes? The answer is no not necessarily. For some people that may be what they need but it is in no way a forgone conclusion. Often what we need is to redefine our relationships and our role in them in order to find ourselves again.
1. Get to know where you are right now - without judgement. Imagine you are out driving and you got lost, you would probably flick on the sat nav (if only there was a life version!) and the first thing it would need to do is detect your location now, where you are starting from. This is exactly what you need to do first too. Try to tune into how you are feeling, what your thoughts are, what you are experiencing in your body (sensations etc). This is you now. Keep track of these things for a week or so and see what you find. If you are feeling lost it is often the case that you have been living on auto pilot for so long that you have tuned out these things. You might be surprised by what you find, you might not. You might like what you find, you might not. Whatever it reveals try not to judge yourself. This is your starting point. Take a look at the feelings wheel to help you.
2. Set some boundaries. If you have become lost because so much of you has been given over to doing things for others, keeping people happy or simply keeping the ship afloat it is time to set some boundaries with your time and attention and carve some out for yourself. Delegate some tasks to others, start saying no, put yourself firmly back on the to-do list.
3. Let go of criticism. This will keep you stuck focussed on what has happened, who is at fault, why you are where you are. It won’t help you move forward effectively. When we are feeling lost we need care and kindness to find our way through not judgement and criticism.
4. Reflect on your influences & choices. Take a little time to consider where your expectations about life have come from and what has influenced your choices? We are all influenced to some degree by those around us - sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a more controlling way. Consider how other people’s expectations have impacted on what you have done or how you have been? What are you looking to keep and what would you like to let go of?
5. Consider your values. These are not goals, they are qualities, how you want to be with yourself and the people around you. What kind of person do you want to be, how would you like others to experience you? Even if this is far away from where you are now that’s ok. This is where you want to go, what kind of person you want to be. If you don’t know your values or how to start thinking about them take a look at this blog here.
6. Try some new things. Set yourself a task to do something new and see what you enjoy. Dedicate some time to finding out what floats your boat. See what you are drawn to and what brings you joy. This not only gets us out of auto-pilot but allows us to a) Start actively prioritising ourself and our happiness for a period of time (even if it is small) and b) discover things about ourself. This can be anything from music, experiences, places, activities, clothes, food, exercise, people, holidays etc.
Finding yourself again (or perhaps for the first time) can take time and can be a little daunting. However, it can also be a really great opportunity. If you start to discover things that are difficult or you find yourself getting stuck it can be a good time to seek support from a therapist or coach who can help you along the way.