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The stress that is figuring out who you are

Self-examination can be an intimidating and vulnerable exercise. Perhaps you already do some form of self-evaluation, that appraisal for work, you’re a teacher trying to improve your lesson plans, or you’re a parent just trying to figure out how to balance looking after the kids with everything else. Ultimately, this process of figuring out who we are requires this technique of evaluation. It doesn’t have to sound and feel so corporate, it can be an emotional process, and moreover it can be positive. To look at your life now and recognise that you aren’t where you want to be requires humility, it means that you may experience some discomfort, because you may have to take accountability for the fact that YOU could be the reason you’re not happy with something in your life.

I know, I never said that this was going to be easy. I promise you though, if you really want control over who you are as an individual, it requires taking accountability for your short comings as well as your talents and gifts. This isn’t some self-help stuff, you’re not just going to start taking accountability for things in your life, because we are human. We avoid pain and discomfort. If you’re intent is right though and you genuinely want to change or just figure out who you are, then I’ll detail out my experience in the hope of inspiring or helping someone else. It’s a slow process, it’s frustrating, and feels like trying to power walk through treacle. You will make it through the treacle, with persistent effort, and the reassurance that the path of self-discovery has been walked before by the others that came before you.

Who the hell am I though right? Why am I subscribing pain? I started therapy 7 years ago. In my first session with my therapist I said something profound when asked why I was there, “I don’t know who I am anymore”. I felt like Keanu Reeves when he wakes up for the first time after being unplugged from the Matrix, I didn’t have cool Kung fu powers, but I was a complete blank slate. I didn’t have my own identity that I had created, I was imitating everyone else. I was insecure because I was constantly lying to myself about the story of my life. I didn’t want to own the things that had happened to me or that I had done, because that meant doing something about those things. The fact was that I had experienced some trauma just like you probably have already, or will in your life. I had a tumultuous relationship with my mom, to the point where we wouldn’t speak if we were in the same room.

I spent some serious time (like a year), just picking apart my life, getting it all out on the table and accepting that stuff had happened. It was a weight off my shoulders and a trauma in itself validating that I had been through some difficult moments. It was frustrating for me because after addressing stuff I still didn’t feel any different, I still didn’t know who I was. I approached my therapist one session and exclaimed “I just want you to fix me”, she leant forwards and said that “no one can tell you who are you Dan, figuring out who you are is something you do for yourself”, I was absolutely gutted. I felt rejected, I was angry, and honestly I made a lot of excuses to myself. After that interaction though something inside me changed for the better. I started turning up to session with prepared thoughts that were on my mind, I would reflect on my life in between sessions like I was in a counselling session in my head talking to myself. I started taking ownership for my therapy journey, taking charge of the sessions, and making my journey a priority.

So that’s what I want to do for you. I want to flip this back onto you. No one is going to figure it out for you, you have to take your life, literally pursue your reflection with purpose. The sad truth is that most people never truly figure out who they are, they subscribe to outside sources to feed their identity. I should know because that’s what I did my whole life. Now I’m not sitting here exactly selling this whole self-discovery stuff, I’m also not claiming to be some self-enlightened guru, I’m on the path though, and looking back it feels much better to be here than where I was before. So, going back to this self-evaluation I talked about at the start, it’s actually not as cumbersome and woo woo as it sounds. It’s like how at the start of a relationship, you’re trying to figure out what the other person wants and needs, and they are figuring out what you need. You’re trying to figure out what their aspirations are, what they want to be doing in 5 years time, what music they like, what their favourite experiences are. Get it? Great, now go do that, but this time the relationship is with yourself.

Now, there is something to be said about self-awareness in this process. I started really playing around, I was experimenting with figuring out what makes me tick when I started doing things on my own. So, it would get to the weekend a lot of the time and I would find myself stuck for something to do, I’d sit watching Netflix or playing video games. I did enjoy these things but I slaved myself to them, because I didn’t know where else to direct my energy. It wasn’t until a couple of years into therapy, that I started going to a pub around the corner from my therapist to chill out after a session, and to collect my thoughts. This process of doing something I wanted to do (even though I thought it was weird), was the first little step for me doing things for me! It blossomed from there, I started to forget about what other people might think, I started going to the cinema on my own which I thoroughly enjoyed. I would go out for meals on my own, my confidence started growing as I did things I felt like doing. Soon I was experiencing newer and more radical things that I felt like I gravitated towards. That’s all it was, intuition. I let my feelings guide me to the things that felt like me, and I started to develop an idea of who I was in my head.

I had an idea of what I liked now, and then had an idea of what I disliked. This was an important foundation. I now had some yard sticks where I could look around at my landscape of 'who Dan is', so when something new came up like a opportunity to go on a trip away to go kayaking I could evaluate whether that fit in with what was 'me'. I now had experience of getting out there and figuring out whether something fit the bill so making decisions became a hell of a lot easier. It's fair to say that I'm still learning today. You never truly stop, this journey discovering you is a path you walk until you can walk no more. I truly believe it's our obligation to understand who we are, what we can offer the world, and what we can offer ourselves. We owe it to ourselves, so we can look in the mirror and know that we did everything we could before our time is up.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this piece and got some value out of it.


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