We are going to do something kind of risky. For the next few weeks, I will be sharing with you 10 lessons I’ve learned about life, dreams, and pursuing work that matters. I hope it helps you set better goals for your life and encourages you to be grateful. Let’s begin.
Lesson 1: Find your “who”
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about finding your “why” thanks to the efforts of the very smart Simon Sinek. But in my experience, that’s not the first question you should ask.
If you’re trying to live a life of purpose and meaning, the first thing to ask is not “why” or even “what” but “who.”
Do you know who you are?
I mean, really know? Most people don’t.
There’s a reason this is the theme of all great stories from Star Wars to The Lion King to Harry Potter to Moana.
We are lost. And we know it.
The trappist monk Thomas Merton calls this your “true self.” So many of us hide behind the false selves of achievement and status, because we are afraid for the world to truly see us for who we are. People might not like us, after all.
Once you know you who you are, you will know what to do.
Activity follows identify, as I like to say.
I learned this relatively early in my life when a friend asked what my dream was and I said I didn’t know.
He said he thought I would have said “be a writer.” As soon as he said that, my heart leapt, and I knew that’s what I wanted but was just too afraid to admit. I guess I did want to be a writer, I admitted. But that would never happen.
My friend looked me in the eye and said,
Jeff, you are a writer. You just need to write.
The next day, I started writing and never looked back. That one conversation changed my life. Not because those words were magical, but because I was waiting to find out who I was before I knew what I was supposed to do with my life.
Maybe you can relate.
Right now, there is a gap between your true self and your false self, between your soul and your sole, and it’s up to you to fill it.
This is true for all of us, by the way, myself included. We are all — hopefully — becoming truer versions of ourselves, those selves that step into the light and do not hide from who we really are.
But to do this well, you need insight. You need a way to recognize your blindspots. Because we as human beings are really terrible at self-awareness, and so we need the voices of others to point out what we’re missing.
Every year, I reflect on what I’ve done with my time and how it complements or conflicts with the things that I say are important to me.
- Do I call myself a writer but do very little writing?
- Do I say family is first but often come home late at the end of the day?
- Do I think of myself as intelligent and creative but give myself very little time to think and play?
There is a gap between who we say we are and who we really are.
And it is the mission of our life to bridge the two. We must be whole, integrated people.
And finding our “who” — that true self we were meant to be — begins with understanding who we are right now, good or bad, warts and all.
So, I dare you to do this one small thing I do every year:
Are you like George Bailey and secretly living a wonderful life?
Or are you like Walter Mitty and you’re missing out on the adventure just beyond your comfort zone?
You have a true self
This may be one of the most important messages and ideas in my life: this idea that you have a true self and you need to find it. I’m so passionate about this topic that I wrote a book on it.
I am often asking “is this really me?” and I hope you ask yourself that, too. It really matters, I think.