Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” ― George R.R. Martin
Much of the unease we experience in our lives is a result of being uncomfortable with who we are. Raised in a society that places a high value on conformity, as children we learn to take cues from our environment and the people around us about how we should behave, what we should say and what we should believe. As adaptable as young chameleons, we blend effortlessly into our surroundings, looking, talking, acting and thinking just like everyone else.
Then, at some point in our lives we realize that the world expects something more from us. Somewhere between the ages of 20 and 25, we come to the stunning realization that we no longer are expected to blend in with our surroundings. Quite the contrary, in fact. We are expected to be individuals—interesting, intelligent, compelling, independent – unique. After years of conforming, we begin to get the message that we must stand out from the crowd in some way to succeed. And that is when we begin to feel insecure, because we have never taken the time to find out who we are or what we have to offer the world.
So, what do we do? In some societies, this is the time in life when young men and women are encouraged to “find themselves,” but here in the U.S. that rarely occurs. Instead, we fall back into old patterns, once again making ourselves into carbon copies of the guy next door. We collect things– money, cars, houses, partners, clothes, jewelry, husbands, wives…trying to carve out an identity based on what and how much we have and not who we are. We think that as long as we have more than someone else, we stand out. And we do. But not in the way we intend, and not in a way that enriches our lives.
A good friend who lives in one of the most affluent areas of the U.S. said to me recently “People here have plenty of money to spend and no time to enjoy it,” and I thought to myself, “How silly—and how sad.” Life is not a dress rehearsal, and none of us is getting out of here with anything more than what we had when we came in. Sure, nice things are fun, and having the money to enjoy life is wonderful. But when the accumulation of wealth is our only purpose or even our main purpose—when it is the only thing that gives meaning to our lives—we inevitably are left wondering over and over “Who will I be when it all disappears?”
Before you write in your journal today, take a look at our list of values, virtues and talents. Spend a few moments scanning the list, and write down the qualities that resonate most strongly with you. Don’t analyze—just put a check mark next to the 5 to 10 words that strike a chord with you and then write them down. Then take three deep cleansing breaths as you ask yourself what these words mean. Are they qualities that you admire, or those you detest? Do you know someone who lives by these virtues who you would like to emulate? If so, who is it and why? Whatever your feelings, take the time to explore them. Finding out what you value and what you don’t is the first step in finding out who you are.