You’ve probably heard the question asked: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Today, I want to take that question a step further and ask, “Who would you be if you weren’t afraid?” As you work to overcome your fears, you’ll be more able to find your true self.
Why it’s important to find your true self
This concept of “finding your true self” can feel a little overwhelming to some and cheesy to others. Some people think it’s unnecessary or silly (“Of course I know who I am!”) and write it off as overhyped self-help.
But here’s the thing: you want a happy, fulfilled life. Everyone does. But how are you ever going to live the life you want to live if you don’t even know who you really are?
It’s only by knowing yourself—your true self—that you can really start to “create happy” in your life, because it’s only by knowing your true self that you can:
- Identify what your “happy” looks like
- Figure out how you can leverage your strengths and overcome setbacks so you can create it.
What does it mean to find your true self?
As I mentioned above, many people shrug off the idea of finding their true self, because they’re convinced they already know their true self.
The problem is, I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years who are trying to create happier lives for themselves, and when they’re just starting to deliberately move down that road, almost none of them actually do know their true self.
Finding and knowing your true self means being able to answer questions like these with total and complete surety and honesty:
What do you love?
What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Who inspires you?
What is your biggest dream?
What do you want—really want?
Can you identify what works for you and what doesn’t?
These questions seem fairly simple and straightforward, but I’ve found that they’re actually quite difficult for most people to answer with honesty and without judgment. Often, people answer how they think they “should” answer, or they answer based on what they’ve “always wanted” or what’s “always been expected of them,” rather than on what they truly want.
How do you know if you know your true self?
So how do you know if you’re able to answer those questions truthfully, or if you’re just answering based on lies you’ve been telling yourself for years? Or, to put that another way, how can you be sure that you know your true self?
Typically, people who know their true self tend to be or feel:
Secure. Knowing your true self brings a sense of security into your life. When you really know who you are, you aren’t apologetic about it, and you aren’t trying to change for other people. You realize who you are, you’re grateful for it, and you recognize that other people can take it or leave it.
Decisive. When you know your true self, you know what you want. And when you know what you want, you’re more likely to be able to make decisions quickly and confidently.
Steady. Knowing your true self orients your life. It points you in a certain direction and empowers you to move in that direction. You’re less likely to change course or get distracted when you know what it is you’re after.
Discerning. Many people who struggle to know their true selves also struggle with discernment, meaning they aren’t sure which tools or ideas will serve them and which ones won’t. I find that people who know their true selves are also able to identify and accept what they need, and leave behind what they don’t.
Why is it hard to find your true self?
Finding your true self seems like it should be intuitive, but it really isn’t. There are actually several things standing in your way.
When I think about this idea, I think about the Disney movie Moana. In the film, a young woman is destined to become the next chief of her people and her island. Moana is capable of being chief, and there is part of her that wants to be. But she also feels drawn to the sea—which is a problem, since her people have been deliberately island-bound for decades.
Over the course of the movie, Moana has to find out who she really is and who she was meant to be. Moana’s journey highlights some of the reasons why it’s so difficult to find your true self.
You have to deliberately seek it.
Moana’s real journey starts when her grandmother leads her to an ancient cave.
“What’s in there?” Moana asks.
“The answer,” her grandmother replies, “to the question you keep asking yourself: who are you meant to be?”
Moana could turn back then—or at any of the difficult spots in her journey—but she doesn’t. She goes into the cave, faces the challenges, and deliberately seeks the answer to that all-important question. She deliberately chooses to seek her true self.
Similarly, we have to deliberately take ourselves on our own journeys of self-discovery if we want to find our true selves. This type of enlightenment doesn’t just fall into your lap; you have to put in the time and do the work.
Other people’s expectations get in the way.
Moana’s father expects her to become the same kind of chief he has been: the kind that keeps their people safe on land. Maui, the trickster demigod Moana ends up partnering with, also expects her to be a certain way: he continually calls her “princess,” even though she vehemently corrects him. Moana has to break free of the expectations others have set for her in order to discover her true self.
Each of us also faces expectations, given to us by our parents, teachers, religious leaders, or society at large. We’re expected to fit within a certain mold, and many times, we meet that expectation—not because it’s who we truly are, but because we don’t want to let other people down or become outcasts in society.
But a truly happy life is built on what you want, not on what other people want for you.
You’re drowning in “shoulds.”
Moana feels like she “should” carry on the tradition of her father and be the chief he wants her to be. She “should” be happy staying on the island, surrounded by the people she loves, working alongside them and leading them to build and maintain a thriving community. There are a few times, in fact, when Moana almost succumbs to the “shoulds” and gives up on her personal dreams and vision.
“Shoulds” are everywhere. You can’t escape them. What you can do is hold them against what you really want and decide how they measure up. Moana, for example, realizes that she does, in fact, want to be chief of her people and live with them, but she also wants to take them back to their voyager roots, fulfilling her true self’s destiny of being both a wayfinder and a chief.
We have to do the same: compare the “shoulds” in our lives to the things we know our true selves want and need. If they don’t match up, there’s no place for them.
How fear keeps you from finding your true self
And then, of course, there’s fear. Fear is one of the biggest things that keeps people from finding their true selves.
How does it do that? What exactly are people afraid of that is holding them back?
Fear of weakness
Many people are afraid to acknowledge and own up to their weaknesses, and really, can you blame them? No one wants to be shown a mirror that highlights their every flaw.
Of course, only by seeing these flaws will you ever be able to face them and improve them. Your weaknesses can become strengths, but not if you don’t know what those weaknesses are.
Fear of vulnerability
Knowing your true self means risking exposure. It means showing people who you really are, and opening up the possibility for them to reject you.
On the other hand, vulnerability opens us up to connection. Finding and sharing your true self invites people to get to know the real you, which leads to deeper, more meaningful relationships.
Fear of letting others down
What if your true self flies in the face of what other people have come to expect of you? What if your true self isn’t a person that your parents are proud of, or that your spouse loves? Thinking about this might lead you to think you’re better off not finding your true self.
Unfortunately, if you don’t find your true self, you’re letting yourself down. You’re keeping yourself from the happiness you want and are capable of creating. Is that really the kind of life you want to live?
Fear of change
When you know better, you do better, and when you know different, you do different. If you find your true self, and you identify ways your current life doesn’t line up with what your true self wants and needs, you’re going to have to change some things, and that can be scary.
Of course you could think about it this way: is it scarier to face the change, or to think about never changing? If you never change, you don’t change for the better, either.
Find your true self by overcoming fears
Fear is not truth. Fear exists only in your head. You have to acknowledge, reject, and overcome fears like these if you’re going to find your true self. If you let the fear run the show, your true self will always be in hiding, literally afraid to come out.
But as you call the fears out for the lies that they are, your true self will start to get a little braver. You’ll start to see that it’s okay to be who you are and that the lies were holding you back rather than protecting you.
Overcoming your fears is necessary if you’re going to find your true self, and finding your true self is necessary if you’re going to create a happier life.
I’ll leave you with this: your true self is worth finding. Inside you is a fiercely creative person, one who is capable of designing, shaping, and creating the life you want to live. When you find your true self by overcoming your fears, you’ll discover a whole new level of happiness—one that resonates deep within your soul, one that feels right to you. You’ll be living your truth as your true self, and there’s nothing more beautiful than that.
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