We live in a culture of proclamations rather than self-inquiry.
In our late teens, we have to decide what we want to be — a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or a writer. We pick a professional identity based on our whimsical teenage interests that often guides the rest of our lives. This isn’t inherently bad, but it reinforces a potentially fabricated sense of self.
All of this happens at a time in life when we should be asking an important question instead:
Who am I?
In Eastern culture, there is a strong emphasis on looking within to find your authentic self. What energizes you? What makes you happy? How do you walk a personal path that will be fulfilling and noble?
Most of us in the Western world aren’t asking the right questions.
Instead, we focus on the surface things that don’t really matter — fancy job titles, shiny cars, trendy restaurants, and the newest tech. Things that most often have nothing to do with who we are.
Here’s how to start the hard work of finding out who you really are under all the noise:
You’re the hero of your own story. Find out what makes you tick.
Deep down, we long to be the people we read about in the classic tales.
Movies, books, fantasy games, and video games allow us to imagine our lives as someone else, which feels good. But watching Luke Skywalker wield a lightsaber isn’t the same as learning kendo yourself. Cheering for Spiderman as he swings across a cityscape is nowhere near as cool as swinging from a vine yourself in the Amazon. Dancing is fun, yet we’ve relegated it to a sport we observe on a screen rather than an activity that fills us with joy.
The problem with the modern world is that the “stars” get to have all the fun.
The thing is, you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to ride a bike. Lots of people enjoy cycling through the scenic countryside without holding world records. You’re the hero in your own life story, so it’s time to stop discounting what really gets you excited.
Finding our true personality is the key to finding meaning and purpose
As we identify the connections to our inner selves, we tap into a contagious wave of energy. We can see when someone is activated, and we are drawn to them. We’re impressed, influenced, or motivated by people who are vibrantly alive. They rub off on us and remind us of something we long to be.
When we find the spark that ignites our spirit, we begin flowing with vitality and people can see it in our eyes.
If time, money, and place weren’t a factor, what would you do with your time?
Once you figure out what you truly enjoy, you can begin to make an action plan to incorporate more of that into your own life. Start by asking yourself the following.
- What would I do without anything standing in my way?
- What can I do to go there?
- What are the obstacles?
- Is it a real or a perceived limitation?
- How can I transform these obstacles?
- How can I change my current lifestyle to accommodate this and move toward the goal?
- Start to curate a life that’s fun to live and filled with good stuff every day. That way, you won’t need to fantasize about being Superman.
Once you figure out your priorities, you’ll have more energy, time, and money to also go on all the adventures you desire. You’ll have more levity in your daily life. You’ll know that you’ve arrived when your home life and your vacation time feel about the same.
Life should be a wondrous flow of experiences, lessons, adventures, and opportunities to spread goodness. But to get there, you first have to nail down your priorities and let go of what’s holding you back.
Once you do, you’ll experience joy wherever you are.
Take a (well-deserved) break
Treat your vacation time as a mini-sabbatical.
What I mean by that is, don’t waste your valuable time off on bus tours of yet another touristy town. Pick a place where you can be at ease and get into a book or some personal work, or just catch up on sleep. Ask yourself what you need and allow yourself to drink from that fountain.
Say, for instance, you’ve always wanted to see the pyramids in Egypt. Okay, that’s a one-week vacation. You don’t need to upend your entire life to take a trip, even if it feels difficult to imagine because your life is heavy with responsibility.
One week should suffice for most people, and that’s not too hard to get in today’s world. If you have small kids, take turns with your spouse or a friend to watch them. Take mini trips as often as you can, and make a plan for more extended time off when feasible.
I treat Sundays as micro-sabbaticals. I do only what feels natural, and I try not to make any plans. This at least gives me some space to relax and let the day unfold. Because I have kids, the day still involves running around, but at least they can get some unstructured time to play and explore as well. Do it as a family and savor it.
This article was originally published on Quora.