“Who am I?” This is perhaps one of the hardest questions you’ll ever have to answer. You could start with superficial responses such as your name, age, job, favorite food, and your interests. But you’ll eventually run out of answers.
Getting in touch with one’s inner self can be both difficult and uncomfortable.
In today’s world, it’s become increasingly common for people to simply not know who they are. The media loves to focus on what’s on the outside. Our appearances, possessions, the places we’ve been and want to go to. We happily gobble these up because it’s easier than having to confront what’s inside.
But when we truly know who we are, we become grounded in our identity. We can then reinforce this identity through reference experiences in the real world and build a solid foundation.
Here are 8 ways to find your true identity:
- Take a Personality Test
- Contemplate Your Past
- Evaluate Your Values
- Write Down Your Strengths and Weaknesses
- Ask Others About Your Strengths and Weaknesses
- Read About People You Idolize
- Explore New Hobbies and Interests
- Establish Your Limitations
Let’s do a deep dive on finding your identity. Ready? Let’s go!
What is Your Identity?
We all have a core identity: a sense of who we are and how we relate to the world.
Many times this sense of identity is unconscious.
Your sense of self is largely based on your past environments, beliefs, social conditioning, behaviors and influences. This identity is formed as a reaction based on your life experiences, which are largely out of your control.
Person A grows is taught by their parents that being entrepreneurial and taking risks is great.
Person B grows up learning that you need to play it safe and find a safe, secure job.
We form these beliefs during our childhood, living our whole lives assuming they are true. We often act accordingly into our adulthood.
When you internalize a belief, it dictates a lot of the way you feel about yourself and helps form your identity.
Often times, our identity development progresses as follows:
- Level 1 – Things we have. Eg., “I’m a rich guy with lots of toys!”
- Level 2 – Things we do. Eg., “I’m a very social person. If I’m not the center of attention, then something is wrong.”
- Level 3 – Things we are. Eg., “I always put my true self forward, and am valuable just for being me!”
Finding your identity results in a sense of groundedness. A state where you’re no longer being pulled in different directions.
The good news is that you can have a proactive influence on your identity and shape it in this way. And it all starts with becoming conscious of your beliefs.
How to Influence Your Identity
One of the most powerful driving forces in your mind is the desire to be congruent to who you believe you are. So no matter what you believe you are, your mind works hard to preserve that identity and to act in congruence with it.
In this sense, you have the power to craft your identity.
And the most important thing you can offer is your sense of uniqueness. Your authenticity. It’s the only thing you can beat anyone in the world at.
Now let’s find that within you.
To do so, hold a vision in your mind of who you truly are and slowly incorporate the mindsets and behaviors of this identity.
Over time, you slowly become congruent with this identity. Just allow yourself (and your mind) to change.
Steps to Taking on a New Identity
Realize that your current identity is exactly what it is: An inherited identity. Imagine you have been viewing the world through colored lenses your whole life and you’re now just finally waking up to this fact.
Accept that the lenses through which you’re currently viewing the world (and yourself) aren’t necessarily an accurate depiction of reality. This can be hard to accept because your current identity is the foundation of everything you believe. Losing grasp of this can make it feel like your world is crumbling.
Take on a new identity that is more true to who you truly are or feel you should be. The most important thing you can offer the world is your sense of uniqueness. Find that within yourself and take it on as your identity.
Live up to your new identity. After finding the identity that is uniquely you, work on crafting and becoming congruent to that. Let go of your old identity with time. As you act in accordance with your new identity, your brain will fill in the gaps.
Questions & Actions to Help You Find Your Identity
Use the following questions to help you pinpoint your authentic identity:
- Identity Audit. Do an internal audit to become aware of the truth of who you are. Ask yourself the questions in this section. and write down your answers. The key here is just awareness. By doing an audit of this nature, you’ll develop a better understanding of what’s running you.
- The End Goal. Ask yourself: “What am I striving toward in my live?” Define your answers in detail. For example, if you answer “success”, what is success? What are the beliefs a successful person has? What are the habits, attitudes and behaviors this person has? Slowly but surely take these on and move in that direction.
- Who am I really?
- Where do I want to be this year?
- What excites me?
- What am I proud of in life?
- What’s running me?
- If I could pick a movie character to represent who I am, who would it be?
Tips for Finding Your Identity
When you’ve developed so many layers that you hardly know which is real and which is fake, how do you see between the blurred lines to find the real you? Here are a few things you can do that might help with finding your indentity.
1. Take a Personality Test
Your personality determines your behavior, which is how you act and react to certain situations. A plethora of these tests have been developed over the years, with each targeting different areas of your personality. These can be related to work, your personality traits, psychological functions, even your fears and feelings.
Perhaps one of the most common and widely used tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which measures four areas of your personality.
- Favorite world – Introversion vs extroversion
- Information – Sensing vs intuition
- Decisions – Thinking vs feeling
- Structure – Judging vs perceiving
Depending on your answers, your results will be released in a four-letter format, which is just 1 out of 16 types. Chances are, you’ve encountered them before. INTJ, ESFP, ISTP, ESTJ… Do any of these ring a bell?
Nowadays, you’ll be able to take a lot of personality tests online for free, but if you can afford it, set an appointment with a psychologist. Not only will your results be more accurate, but a licensed professional with years of study and experience under his belt will be able to give you a better understanding of what they all mean.
2. Contemplate Your Past
Some of us have mostly happy childhoods, but others have less fortunate ones. One thing you can do if you’re feeling lost and confused about your identity is to look back on your childhood days. Reminisce about what you were like before life hit you with a ton of bricks. Were you always shy and sensitive, or curious and talkative? Did you like to draw and work with your hands? Or were you fascinated by music and the arts?
Often, in the process of growing up, people can lose sight of their interests, and certain talents get tossed aside. Maybe this was to focus more on getting better grades, or perhaps their families didn’t have enough money to support their talents, or a traumatic event could have happened. But as an adult looking for your own identity, you may want to look back and try your hand at things you used to love doing.
Apart from your talents and hobbies, also consider your early regrets. What happened and what did it teach you? How did it influence your personality and future decisions? Introspection is always a great tool to rediscover yourself. You can even combine it with a bit of note taking for better results!
3. Evaluate Your Values
What’s important to you says a lot about who you are as a person. There are hundreds of core values out there. Among them, which ones do you value the most? Is it equality? Punctuality? Generosity? Intelligence? Every person has a different set of values. So even though you may be similar to another in terms of what values would make your top 10, that does not mean you’ll both rank them the same way.
Your values have the ability to dictate how you live your life, and how you feel about different situations. If you value cleanliness, for example, then you’re not likely to be marrying a partner who’s a slob. Similarly, a playful and imaginative person will be happier in a profession that deals with children rather than something like accounting.
You don’t have to limit yourself to just a handful of values. What’s important is that you recognize their purpose and their importance in your daily life. The sooner you figure out what your top values are, the more guidance and direction you’ll have in your life.
4. Write Down Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Identifying your strengths and weaknesses is important as they can help you determine your career path, your hobbies and interests, or a possible business opportunity. If you love books and organization, maybe you could become a librarian. Combine art and cooking and maybe you can bake cakes! If you’re naturally athletic, why not try your hand at becoming a fitness trainer?
There’s value in taking notes. Writing all of these down will give you something tangible to read and contemplate on. Ask yourself, is there an activity you can do all day without getting bored or tired? What are you good at? What is it about your hobbies that makes you enjoy them? Perhaps the serenity associated with fishing appeals to you, or maybe you love creating a new world through your stories.
You get the gist. Play to your strengths as they are there for a reason, and acknowledge your weaknesses as areas for growth. Strike a balance between what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at, and finding a new career might just become easier.
5. Ask Others About Your Strengths and Weaknesses
If you’re unsure about yourself, or nothing comes to mind, then try asking other people for advice. Your family and friends can be more observant than you think, and more often than not, they’ll have an opinion about what they think you would be good at. You can also try to remember moments in which your loved ones most often asked for your help. Conversely, to find your weaknesses, you can think of situations when you are likely to need their help instead.
Outsiders can possess a more objective assessment of your skills. Ask them for their complete honesty and gracefully accept whatever criticisms might come. For example, you might see yourself as a reasonable person in any situation, but a friend might tell you that you can get pretty defensive and close-minded when confronted.
Asking for an outside opinion will give you a more objective understanding of yourself. Doing this will also give you the benefit of having notes to compare so you can see if a particular trait was mentioned by everyone. If the majority agrees, then it must be true.
6. Read About People You Idolize
There’s a reason you look up to someone. It doesn’t even have to be a celebrity or a very famous person. It could be your next-door neighbor, a teacher, or even your uncle. This person could possess a specific quality that you value, or they might be so similar to you that you can’t help but relate to them on a more personal level.
You could have an old and fragile neighbor who can make things out of wood that simply amazes you. Or maybe you admire how calm and level-headed your father always is, even in tense situations. Do you see yourself in these people? Do they have a specific trait that you want to emulate? Ask them about their lives, learn how they cope with stressful situations, and find out what brings them joy.
If your idol happens to be a celebrity, then you can get to know him better by reading an autobiography or watching some of his interviews. Do all these and you might learn a thing or two about yourself, too!
7. Explore New Hobbies and Interests
You want to be an actor, but your parents are against it. They tell you that wanting something badly does not mean that one day you’re going to get it. And they’re right. It’s a harsh, sad truth. But just because your chances are slim doesn’t mean you should just give up on your dreams. Instead, you can work on them while also developing a separate skill set along the side.
You can be an aspiring actor who also knows how to dance, make music, swim, answer complex mathematical equations, or knit clothes. Adding to your repertoire of skills only serves to make you more desirable in the long run. It will give you something to do in your free time, as well as something to fall back on if your primary choice leads to nowhere.
Be brave and open to trying new things. Maybe trekking and hiking aren’t your thing, but you might realize that you enjoy nature photography. You never would’ve discovered this passion if you only had stuck with what you already knew. And who knows? Maybe you’ll enjoy your new hobby so much that it’ll bump your number one choice out of the top spot.
8. Establish Your Limitations
Earlier, we talked about how reminiscing about your past might spark some present realizations about who you are and who you used to be. Now, we’ll discuss why looking to the future is just as important.
If I were to ask you to think about the kind of future you envision for yourself, what would you see?
- Are there people in the image? If yes, who are they?
- Are you at home watching TV, or lying on a beach somewhere?
- Are you traveling the world alone or with a partner?
- What kind of work are you doing, and are you enjoying it?
- How much money do you have in the bank?
These are just some of the questions you can ask yourself. The answers are important because they paint a good picture of your true goals in life, and who you want to become.
If you see yourself traveling around the world with a lot of money in the banks, then consider whether your present circumstances can lead to the fulfillment of that dream. If you have a proclivity for doing business, then start one! If you’re opinionated, well-versed, and comfortable in front of a camera, try your hand at being an influencer!
Nobody ever said finding your identity and staying true to yourself would be easy. It’s a long, ongoing process. If you’re unsure about where to begin your journey to self-discovery, I say, stop overthinking it and just start! If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to get it.
The Importance of Establishing a Self-Identity
Your journey to self-discovery will lead you to finding what’s important to you. This will involve establishing a set of values and beliefs to carry you through life. It will mean finding a career path you enjoy, that motivates you to keep on going. And lastly, it will lead to genuine happiness and self-love. Your loved ones and your work can add value to your life, but they will not define who you are.
A person without a clear sense of self is more likely to put other people’s needs above their own and follow what others expect of them, even if it isn’t something he desires. This can lead to discontentment, unhappiness, and even depression in the long run. And the sad part is, they won’t even know why.
This is why I strongly suggest to all the younger readers out there to take some time to really discover who you are first before committing to any major life decisions.
Psychological Stages of Identity Development
In the 1960s, a developmental psychologist named James Marcia developed the four statuses of identity development. Each status is marked by a certain level of identity exploration and commitment, and not everyone will get to experience all of them.
When a person is in the first status, he’ll drift aimlessly without any concrete plans for his future. He is not committed to an identity and has no desire to explore any of his options. When asked what his plans for the future are, he won’t know.
This is when a person has not explored his options despite having already committed to an identity, like when parents decide a child’s future for him. An example would be a carpenter’s son becoming a carpenter simply because his father is one, not because he is interested in it. The child obeys because it’s familiar and comfortable.
A youth who extensively explores his options without committing to anything is at this level. This could be a college graduate taking a year off after school to explore the world and discover his likes and dislikes. His aim is to get to know himself better before making any big life decisions.
This is the final status in which a person has explored multiple options and discovered his own unique identity, along with his personal beliefs and values. Whoever has reached this level knows who he is and is not easily swayed by outside influences. He has the highest chance of achieving life satisfaction and happiness.
Obstacles to Discovering Your Personal Identity
Discovering your identity is a tedious prorcess because you’re constantly evolving, fueled by the new experiences you go through as you age. For example, transferring to a new school only to find that your new teacher is leaps and bounds stricter than your previous one. This circumstance could force you to change from being the fun one at parties to becoming quiet and subservient
The social feedback and reinforcement you get has major effects on how quickly you incorporate your identity. Expect some pushback as you incorporate new behaviors and attitudes. It’s a natural reaction from friends, colleagues and family as they see you changing. Ultimately, you have to be strong in your self-belief and conviction and live up to who you know you truly are. The key here is making it authentic, which can take time.
Everyone is unique, but when you’ve had to conform to your environment all your life just to stay afloat, it’s easy to lose track of who you really are. You could get lost trying to fit in at school, or you could be satisfied with simply following your family’s beliefs, culture, and practices without ever discovering who you could be without them.
Factors That May Create an Identity Crisis
Apart from what has already been mentioned, many other factors contribute to a person’s identity crisis. These can happen at any time to anyone, and picking yourself up to find your identity again is not without its challenges.
A traumatic accident or even a targeted attack on your personhood can trigger major doubts and changes in you. A good example would be when a soccer player, whose life revolves around the sport, loses his sense of self after sustaining a serious injury that will prevent him from playing further.
The Loss of a Loved One
If you lived your life in your mother’s shadow, you will undoubtedly feel lost if you are suddenly separated. Or perhaps you have spent most of your life running away from your father’s business, and find yourself unable to sell it after his passing. Instead, you take up the mantle and run the business yourself, in his memory.
Some of the wisest people out there are those who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness like cancer or other rare disease. This is no coincidence. When you realize what time you have left is limited, you have to let go of a lot of your plans and hone in on what’s really important to you.
Changes to or Loss of a Relationship
You’ve seen and heard it before—a couple that’s been together for so long that they’re basically one person. This can be in the form of a marriage that’s lasted 50 years, or even a childhood friendship that has spanned a few decades. When the relationship ends, no matter what the reason may be, it’s natural for you to feel lost.
All of these factors present their own individual challenges, and they’re especially difficult when you lose yourself amidst them, because redeveloping a new identity is not easy. You’ll have to deal with your losses and accept that your life will never be as it was. You’ll have to open yourself up to a lot of new possibilities, like meeting new people and experiencing new things. You’ll need to risk being vulnerable and starting over from scratch.
Frequently Asked Questions for Finding Your Identity
What makes up a person’s identity?
A person’s identity sets them apart from everyone else. It is made up of but is not limited to your values and beliefs, personality, culture, race, experiences, sexual orientation, religion, physical traits, genetics, level of education, and social status.
What does it mean to find your identity?
When you find your identity, it means that you are able to define who you are both on the outside and especially on the inside. It means that you know exactly what you want, what you need, and what you are looking for in life.
What is a personal identity statement?
Personal identity statements are positive statements about yourself that are true, or that you are working towards. For example, if you are thinking about switching careers, you may try saying to yourself, “I am brave enough to try new things. I am open to change.”
Your identity is constantly changing. Because of this, you can easily lose track of who you are deep down in favor of the mask you project to the world. Living your life through this mask will eventually wear you out and dissatisfy you, and yet few people are brave enough to step outside that mask and be honest with themselves.
This is because finding your identity requires a lot of time, introspection, effort, and commitment. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’ll all be worth it in the end. Living as yourself will allow you to make the best decisions for you, leading to a happier and more fulfilling life.
Originally Published: November 30, 2022
✍️ Cusco, Peru