Who are you? It can be one of the first questions we ask someone when we meet, or one of the most critical pieces of information we can have before interacting with another person. This deceptively simple yet complex piece of information directs our actions, impressions, and intentions at even the most basic level. Despite the importance of knowing other people, I would argue that it is more important to know yourself. From a very young age, I was frequently told that “everyone is different”, and it’s hard to argue with that logic. So in my mind, people are inherently going to have to do things in their own way. I’ll include this single disclaimer in this post: The thoughts and concepts I put forth are solely mine, and very well may not apply to other people. That being said, I do honestly believe that they are accurate, and if you can apply them to your life as well, then by all means, I hope you do.
I’ve heard some debate on whether you can actually really know yourself. In the time I’ve spent thinking about this, I have concluded that it is possible. I imagine you could spend a lifetime labeling all the necessary tasks to achieve this, but I can readily think of three.
First, and foremost, to know yourself you actually need to live. You need to experience a variety of things. I’d urge people to get out and intentionally try new experiences, but this also naturally happens over time no matter what you do.
The second is to spend time adjusting your perspective so that you have an accurate view of the world. There are positive and negative aspects in everyone. Some days you can be upbeat, pleasant, and friendly, while on other days you may be miserable, hostile, or confrontational. These are all forgivable, but it is important to recognize how you are feeling or acting at any given point. Acknowledge it to yourself, even if you don’t admit it to other people. This portion is especially crucial to knowing yourself. It is the basis of information that you use to move toward understanding yourself.
The third, and quite possibly the most uncomfortable portion, is self-reflection. I personally despise carving out specific times to reflect. It feels forced, unnatural, and, to be perfectly frank, like I’m wasting my time. This isn’t because I think it’s unimportant, but I’ve found that, for myself, I spend more time actually trying to reflect, and less time actually reflecting. Most times, my self-reflection occurs at odd times throughout the day. Sometimes I’ll be in mid-reaction to some mildly annoying circumstance, other times I’ll be in the middle of cooking. There doesn’t seem to be a specific trigger, but I’ll find myself analyzing some aspect of my character. As far as I’m concerned, how or when you reflect doesn’t particularly matter. I find it most productive to spend some time sitting in my thoughts when I notice them intruding. By doing this, I’ve found that I gain a deeper understanding of myself. What actually makes me tick? What really angers me? What do I enjoy and want to spend my energy on, and what do I just tell people I like to try and establish new friendships or maintain my image?
Who you are and who you appear to be does not always need to align, but it is important to be honest with yourself and have an accurate understanding of who you truly are.
I also understand that it can be difficult to start from scratch, without an example or a model to draw from. So, in hopes that at least some of my thoughts resonate with you on some level, let me introduce myself:
My name is Ben. I was raised to always do my best and avoid using excuses, which in turn has led to my competitive nature. I am easily frustrated, although I will rarely outwardly show it to most people. This is especially true regarding incompetence and lack of follow-through. I adapt to my surroundings to finish the task at hand. I strive to be positive in even the darkest of circumstances, which likely enhances my dark humor. I also maintain few friendships, but care deeply for those around me. While I won’t give the shirt off my back for most people, I am willing to sweat and bleed next to anyone who is willing to help themselves. And while I am able to share my thoughts with a variety of people, it can be difficult. It takes effort. But through the years, I have found that I value good communication and effort over nearly anything else.
Ben Turner, M.A., CAGS
Licensed School Psychologist – Vermont