What Does It Really Mean To 'Find Yourself'?
I sit at the head of our kitchen table. Beside me is a cup of tea made with milk and two sugars, my trusty pack of coloured Staedtler fine-line pens, and my chunky ring-bound notebook. And I begin to write. Or I try to. As I stare at this question in the centre of my handwritten mind map, I struggle to fight off the cliché imagery battering my mind’s eye. It’s a profound and loaded question- no doubt about it- yet I can’t help but feeling as though wading through the quagmire of its connotations only gets us more bogged down. “What does it really mean to find yourself?” I mumble privately. I realise that to begin, I must know who I am in the first place.
It is extremely pertinent to consider and interrogate how you define yourself. From the shopping list of respectable attributes which fill your CV, to the charities you do (or do not) choose to donate to. The clothes you wear, your home city, hobbies, jobs, friends, dreams, fears- the lot. It all boils down to an understanding of the things that make up who you are right now.
The point being, that it’s a choice. A tick-box exercise whereby you can comfortably, confidently and honestly select what makes you who you are. So arguably, you have found yourself when you have created an unshakeable foundation of habits and beliefs and all-round identity. A sense of whole in the story we tell ourselves every day, but it matters how we frame it. If instead finding yourself means achieving a level of success and fulfilment, whatever that may look like to you, perhaps then we are excavating an entirely different mine. By assuming a current lostness, disconnectedness, a yearning for home, this asks: where am I going wrong?
In my experience, this is nothing to do with being your ‘best self’ 24/7 and everything to do with purpose. Feeling derailed, even though you might have a solid sense of identity, is horrible and can be quite a regular occurrence when who you are and what you want exist at loggerheads. This is when we crave change. It’s in the transformative spaces we learn the most- and often we equate finding ourselves with an adventure; going to university, travelling solo, bouncing back after a break-up. Usually, I think, because by inducing change, we regain a sense of direction. But finding yourself is a lifelong journey- not a destination. One which requires perseverance, courage, and overall an openness to change.
Perhaps put simply- the embrace of new experiences. It is not the daring of this journey in solitude but the people we choose to surround ourselves with. The ability to confidently and comfortably voice our opinions without scrutiny creates the biggest difference in shaping your sense of self. So if you are indeed wondering where you’ve gone wrong, I believe, somewhere, you aren’t being true to yourself.
I disregard the widely adopted concept that we are all caterpillars awaiting our one life-altering experience, from which we will emerge from our cocoons thriving and more beautiful than before. Rather, I believe we are snakes. Shedding our skin as we outgrow and evolve from different circumstances throughout our lives, in the full knowledge that we are, at our core, the same person. For me, this is the beauty of the question, as our answer is transient and malleable as we are.
‘Finding yourself’ is a far less profound phenomenon than perhaps our initial instincts lead us to believe. It happens in the small moments we often overlook. My life is distinctly lacking in any groundbreaking epiphanies, but it is rich in valuable friendships and a willingness to learn. It’s in my concrete love for cheesy musicals and hugs and the fact I say, “yes!” too much. It’s in the fact I used to think I was a terrible dancer, and that now I dance regardless because it brings me joy. It’s in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep because I am deathly anxious about everything. It’s in the quiet spaces, enveloped in the soft, welcoming arms of home that I recognise all of the people I have been and one day will be. It is here that the true extent of your discovery can be found.
I can now dispel the visions my mind desperately conjures in an attempt to fool me into thinking that such a state of oneness exists only in tropical travel blogs. And here I sit, at the head of our kitchen table. Entirely at peace with my pre-historic approach to brainstorming as I jot out these thoughts and notions in accordance to their coloured category, until my mind map has grown a multitude of legs and offshoots of questions. My tea, too sweet for some, grows tepid, but I don’t mind. I somewhat begrudgingly turn to my laptop. And this time, I can begin. “What does it really mean to find yourself?” I mumble privately to myself once more. To live authentically, I answer.