Who ARE You? A How-To Guide for Self Discovery

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If you feel like you don’t know yourself, it can be hard to find (or feel confident in) your direction in life. That’s why taking time to ask yourself some self discovery questions is so important.

Who are you, really?

Getting to know yourself is an ongoing process. It’s a journey that we needn’t (and shouldn’t) rush through. But if you’ve been struggling to figure out who you really are, I’ve assembled this post to help you on your way.

For this post, I’ve broken up different aspects of self discovery questions into four categories:

Below, we’ll explore how to identify each of these aspects of yourself, as well as some tips on how to be your most authentic self as you start to know yourself better.

Self Discovery: What Are Your Personal Values?

What sort of career would you find most fulfilling? What do you want out of your relationships? Which sorts of hobbies should you take up?

Determining your personal values is the first and most important step in answering these self discovery questions.

How to Identify Your Personal Values

Take an Online Test

By sorting my values in this quiz, I was able to discover that my highest value is Peace. This raised the question of whether I may be sacrificing some of my other values for the sake of avoiding conflict, or whether I might need to make some compromises in order to hold to my value of Peace.

Take the test now and discover your most important personal values!

OR

Choose Your Personal Values From a List

Look at a list of personal values and take note of the ones that stand out to you.

Here are some examples of personal values:

ActivismAltruismAmbitionAuthenticityAuthority
BeautyComfortCommunityCompassionContentment
CreativityCuriosityDecisivenessDedicationEquality
EthicsFairnessFaithFameFamily
FreedomFriendshipFunGenerosityGratitude
HappinessHonestyHopeHumorIndependence
IndividualityIntelligenceJoyJusticeKindness
KnowledgeLoveLoyaltyMaturityMinimalism
Open MindednessOriginalityPassionPatiencePeace
PerseverancePowerPurposeReasonReligion
SecuritySelf LoveSpiritualitySuccessThankfulness
UnderstandingVitalityWealthWisdomYouthfulness

If you think of more, write them down!

Take note of all the values that stand out to you, and then highlight your top 20, top 10, top 5, top 3.

If you can identify one core value that stands out above the rest, great! But you don’t have to narrow it down to just one, or even a top three. Your values aren’t competing with each other!

…Or are they?

Are You Sacrificing Some Values for the Sake of Other Ones?

What’s more important to you, authenticity or professionalism? Trustworthiness or fairness? Family or ambition?

There’s no right or wrong answer–I’m not here to make judgement calls for you. It’s up to you to determine which of your values might take priority over others.

If it comes right down to it, would you move away from family to take the job you’ve always dreamed of? Would you compromise your honesty to keep peace? Would you stay in a job that stifled your creativity if it paid well enough?

Part of identifying your values is identifying which of your values might take priority over others, and which you might be willing to compromise on.

Once you’ve determined the importance of each of your values, you can stop and ask yourself…

Are You Living By Your Values?

Once you have a list of your values, start thinking of every move you make in terms of whether or not it aligns with your values. 

Does your career somehow clash with one of your core values? Do your relationships with others reflect your values? How are you spending your time?

Maybe spirituality is a core value of yours, but you’re not taking time out of your week to practice your faith. Or maybe authenticity is one of your values, but you realize you haven’t been being true to yourself.

What good are your values if you don’t put them into action?

You can claim to value altruism all you want, but if you aren’t being altruistic, you’re not really honoring your values, are you?

Whether through volunteer work, shifts in your current relationships, or even a career change, I encourage you to look for more opportunities to demonstrate your values in the real world. This will help you feel closer to yourself.

Self Care Tip! Don’t beat yourself up if you discover that you haven’t been living up to your own values. None of us are perfect, and wallowing in shame isn’t going to help us feel any closer to living a life that aligns with our values. Recognize the truth of the past, forgive yourself, and look to the future! That’s real self care.

Reassess Your Values Every Now and Then – We Are Always Learning and Growing!

Maybe you’re at a time in your life where a sense of security is your highest priority. That could change once you feel more secure! Or, perhaps you’ll undergo a shift in your worldview, and realize some of your values don’t align with your new beliefs. That’s okay! People change! 

Check back over your list every now and then, and see if anything’s changed. I do this once about every six months.

Be honest with yourself and don’t cling to an old set of values just because they’re familiar and that’s who you believed yourself to be – you are allowed to change with time!

Don’t Get Too Caught Up In It

As with any sort of self-reflecting, it can be easy to be swept away into the sea of introspection. I get lost in there on the regular!

If you find that you are starting to overwhelm yourself with these sorts of existential self discovery questions, take a break.

Breathe.

Go for a walk.

Listen to music. 

Read a book, or watch a movie.

Tune out of all the existential noise for a bit.

Your Self will still be waiting for you once you’ve taken a break. There’s no rush to have it all figured out right away. Life is a journey, a learning process.

It’s okay if you think your highest priority is to be successful one day and then start to question whether maybe it might be creativity. There’s no shame in adjusting your values and priorities.

Nothing is set in stone, and it’s never too late to change your life. Life is all about change!

We are constantly evolving as we grow to understand ourselves and the world around us better.

Who you are now is probably not who you were five, ten, fifteen years ago, and will likely not be the you who’ll come to be in several years’ time.

Identifying your values as they are now can help you make your decisions for the present, but they by no means need to hold you back from changing and growing.

Self Discovery: What Are Your Beliefs?

What’s your worldview?

How do you understand the world around you?

This is a broad question that applies to so much more than religion and politics. It’s important to know whether you believe the Earth has been here for billions or merely thousands of years, sure, but what about ethics?

Regardless of what drives your understanding of morals, it’s important to know what those beliefs actually are.

Do you believe it’s okay that some people are hoarding the majority of wealth in the world?

Do you think it’s your responsibility to do something about world hunger?

Beliefs and values often go hand in hand.

Some beliefs may lead to someone compromising their values, and some values may pose a threat to one’s beliefs.

Pinning these beliefs and values down and examining how they relate to one another will help you identify who you really are.

Beliefs vs. Identity

A photo of a person holding an antique globe in front of their head.
Photo by Slava on Unsplash

Okay, yes, we’re talking about self discovery and beliefs are a huge part of that. We live in a world where our personal, political, religious, and philosophical beliefs have become politicized and inextricably tied to our sense of self.

But are you really your beliefs?

Beliefs change. Identity can also change–it evolves naturally over time as we mature, but it can also have drastic shifts when we come to a new understanding about something.

Think back to your core values.

Are your beliefs–political, social, religious or otherwise–aligned with your personal values?

When you examine the things you believe about the world and your place in it, is there room for kindness? For open mindedness? For wealth? Ambition? Honesty? Peace?

Our beliefs may make up a key aspect of who we are, but not at the cost of any other category of the Self.

You are a combination of your values, beliefs, passions, and expression.

In a world so divided by individual beliefs, I advise you not to internalize your beliefs so much that the rest of you gets lost to them.

You Don’t Have to Have it All Figured Out

A photo of a person looking up with a thoughtful look on their face, their hand on their chin. It's important not to get too caught up in all these self discovery questions.
Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash

I know I said earlier that it’s important to know what you believe, but it’s also okay if you’re not entirely sure about some things.

There’s a lot of information out there, a lot of different things to think about, and it can be overwhelming!

The important thing is not to give up and allow yourself to be told how to view the world. You are responsible for realizing your own beliefs.

Take the time to do your own research, but don’t get too caught up in the uncertainty.

It’s okay to not know things.

It’s okay to have questions that are as of yet unanswered.

Life is a learning process. Give yourself room to learn and grow at your own pace.

Self Discovery: What Are Your Passions?

What’s life without passion?

You can have all the values and beliefs in the world to give you a sense of direction, but without passion, what’s going to drive you to actually get out there and live your life?

A key part of knowing yourself is discovering your passions.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What fills your soul with that life-giving flame? Are there certain social causes that ignite your spirit? Do you love animals? Making people laugh? Creating art? Immersing yourself in a world of fiction?

Get a piece of paper, or a journal if you have one, and free-write about all the things that give you that spark of life. What ignites your soul? Make a list. Scribble down keywords. Underline things. Make it a mess of a paper. Use it as inspiration when you’re looking for direction in life.

Self Discovery Tip! Not sure what you’re passionate about? Try new things! When you see images or videos of people doing certain things, does it make you want to try it, too? Sometimes we’re afraid to pursue new passions because they’re, well, new, and change can be scary. But this is your life we’re talking about! Your one precious life! Get out there and find the things that make it worth living.

Self Discovery: Self Expression

We’ve talked about values, beliefs, and passions – All key aspects of who you are. But what about the way you understand yourself as you relate to the world around you? What’s your gender? Your personal expression? What personality traits do you express?

These are all elements of the last category in our journey through Self Discovery: Self Expression.

Gender & Expression

Exploring your gender and the way you express it can be hugely liberating and a big part of understanding who you are.

Whether you’re cisgender (i.e. you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth), or trans or nonbinary, it’s always a good idea to do some looking inward to see if you’re honoring your internal sense of self.

What pronouns make you feel most comfortable in your skin? (Note: It’s okay to identify with different pronouns than you were assigned at birth– even if you’re cis!)

How do you express your gender (or lack thereof, as is my case)? Do you prefer to dress a certain way? Talk a certain way? Does it come naturally to you, or do you like to “perform” femininity/masculinity/androgynyn to feel empowered?

Get to know yourself in this regard. Experiment. Try on new styles– try on new names, if it suits you! Gender is made up and there are no rules you have to follow.

How Do You Feel About Yourself?

We’ve covered that gender is a pretty big part of self expression for many people. But what about your overall sense of self? Your personality? What do you believe about yourself?

Are you kind? Funny? Clever? Creative? Ambitious?

These may be your core personality traits. Take note of them.

Go A Little Deeper. Do you believe you’re a good person? That you’re worthy of love?
Of course, everyone is worthy of love, but if you struggle to accept this about yourself, your sense of self may be askew. Working on your self-esteem can help you identify who you really are – not the harmful lies you may have come to believe about yourself and your self-worth.

How Do You Want Others to See You?

There’s only so much control we have over how others see us; everyone is going to look at you through their own lens.

But if you want to be seen as kind, you’ve got to prioritize being kind.

If you want to be the friend that makes everyone laugh, you’ve got to put forth your best effort to be entertaining.

Identifying the kind of person you want others to see you as is a big step towards embracing your truest self.

Not because you should change yourself to be seen the way you want to be seen, but because the kind of person you want to be seen as is a huge clue as to who you already are.

You want to be seen as funny because some part of you identifies with humor. You want to be seen as good and kind because some part of you identifies with goodness and kindness.

Maybe these are some of your values. Maybe they’re innate to your soul, if you believe in that sort of thing. (Note: This post is about discovering yourself, not debating where the Self comes from – I haven’t the attention span for that sort of existentiality today.)

Wherever they come from, the things you believe about yourself and the ways you want others to see you are key aspects of who you really are, and who you have the potential to become.

Maybe you want others to see you as generous, but you don’t feel that you give a lot. Maybe you want people to think you’re optimistic, but you struggle with pessimism lately.

Identifying the way we want to be perceived can clue us in to the way we want to be. Examine the person you want to be. Take steps to become that person, if they align with your values, beliefs, and internal sense of self.

Explore Yourself

Now we’ve gone through all four categories of Self Discovery. This is where I leave you, here, at the end of the post.

But I hope this isn’t where your journey of self discovery ends.

Finding yourself is a lifelong journey. We are constantly learning more about ourselves and the world around us, if we are willing to do that introspective work.

Keep Exploring Yourself

Don’t stop asking questions. Continue trying new things and seeing if they feel like You.

Keep your mind and heart open to growth as you progress through life, and always be true to your authentic, wonderful, evolving self.

Sincerely,

Signature of the name Riley
Riley, he/they pronouns

For more tips on how to get to know yourself better, check out this post!

As you get to know yourself better, you’ll have a better idea of what you want your life to look like. Here’s a post on how to design your dream life.


What areas of self discovery are you most excited to explore? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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In the background, a photo of a person holding three small leaves to their face, covering half their face. In the foreground, text reads: Who are you? A how to guide for self discovery. Below, highlighted in burgundy, is the URL to the blog, LiveByYourDesign.com.

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