A woman sitting on the couch writing down in her notebook.

Will the real you please stand up?

Are you the you that dresses to impress, holds court in the office, negotiates the big deal, runs the report, and circles back to a Thursday happy hour with your coworkers?

Are you the you that runs on the weekend, oblivious to the grueling miles as you keep tempo with your hard rock playlist, before finishing at the gym with weights and a smoothie?

Are you the you that just tucked the kids into bed after a game of pirates at bath time, three stories, a check under the bed for monsters, a nightlight tune-up, and several kisses and affirmations of your love and protection?

Are you the you that shows up to class, pounds knowledge into the cranium, hits field hockey practice on the way out, puts in a couple hours each at homework, piano practice, catching up with friends, running a load of laundry, and arguing with parents before crashing into an unmade bed?

Or maybe you are really the you who is awake at two in the morning when all is silent, pondering the universe and your place in it.

What makes you, you? Are you the sum of the ways you spend your life or are you something quite apart from it? From childhood through adulthood, we all exist in a state of continual growth, inside and out. It’s normal to have times when you're really not sure who you are anymore or know how to keep up with an evolving self-identity.

If you find yourself in an ambiguous space and questioning who you are now, there are plenty of ways to reintroduce yourself to yourself. Your personality might expand as you age, but your core traits tend to hold steady over the course of your life. Who you are now will align with your traits, and these tips will help you find that alignment.

1. Take a personality test

First things first, take one or more personality tests like TypeFinder, which is based on the Myers and Briggs assessment, or the Enneagram. Try to block out any labels or expectations you carry from the past versions of you. Instead, answer the questions from your gut based on how you feel today. This will help you figure out if certain self-perceptions have stayed the same or if they have shifted. 

It might be reassuring to discover that you are still the basic package. There’s also the chance you’ve grown in wisdom, clarity or tolerance, for example.

2.  Make a list or two

Your role is not your identity. What you do is not who you are. You know this intellectually, but the following exercise may help you feel it more.

On a sheet of paper, list the things you fill your day with and the labels that might come with them. Begin it with, “I am a…” For example, you may write,  “I am a daughter, sister, wife,” and continue with your occupation, hobbies, community involvement, etc.

Now list your personality traits, courtesy of the tests you took. This list begins, “I am…”   I am  conscientious, loyal, independent, precise, honest and so on.

Compare the two lists. Do you hear the difference? Can you see where the two lists align? Can you see where they seem to be disparate? What can these clues tell you about yourself?

3. Ponder your why

Just because you regularly go to the gym does not make you a “gym rat.” I went for ten years straight, not because I love the smell of dirty socks, but because the routine and endorphins supported my mental health. My "why" wasn't to get fit or sculpt a beach body; it was to have fun. When my favorite class got canceled, I quit having fun. But because I knew this, leaving the gym was not an identity crisis but an opportunity to find something else that supported my why.

Take a few minutes to contemplate your "whys" for some of the things you do. Satisfying answers may be less than obvious at first, but don't stop until you find them. Knowing your motivation, you can decide if your routines and behaviors are supporting your identity or simply taking up space.

4.  Get creative

Even (or especially) if it’s not something you feel called to do or even have any skills at, take an afternoon alone to paint, draw, write, dance or take photos. Notice I didn’t include gardening or cooking and the like. Don’t do anything that implies results are expected. The point is to be creative, without judgment or expectation. The exercise in itself is what will help you deconstruct your critical thinking and allow your inner child to play. 

Pay very close attention as your body expresses itself and it will help you connect with your foundations and remember who you are.

5.  Talk to your people

There are, of course, things we don’t like about ourselves. We can go our whole lives ignoring, working around, denying, or actively avoiding them without realizing it. We might even have personality envy, where we yearn for the personality traits of a much-admired friend or coworker. This denial prevents us from knowing who we really are.

Your people know you. Ask someone who knows you best who they see when they look at you. It may not be your mother. It may not be your supervisor at work. It may not even be your spouse. But there will be someone in your life who can give you honest and critical feedback and help you see yourself in a new light. Learn to listen and understand their perspective, because it can be just as valuable as your own.

6. Check the rearview mirror for sparkles

We all come from somewhere and hindsight can give you a clearer picture of who you are. Take note of the times you were successful in your life. Especially insightful. Particularly kind or generous or happy. What things in your past still resonate with these deeply fulfilling emotions? What memories do you cherish? These are clues to your ethics, values, goals and beliefs.

What you give to the world mindfully, intentionally and thoughtfully usually comes from the core of who you are. Use these memories to remind yourself that you are someone who can give what no one else can. That you can trust yourself to keep growing in the places that matter to you most.

7.  Interview yourself

There comes a time when we stop self-doubting, second-guessing or constantly letting others influence our self image and get back to living our best life. You have to start walking the path before you with a confidence that who you are is enough. While journaling seems instinctual to me as a writer—and you can certainly do this—I think you get faster and more solid results from working verbally with another person.

Set up a ten-minute speed interview. Dress for success. Be present. Sit in a private, comfortable place, and have your person ask you a series of questions about yourself. This person is to only ask the next question, not give feedback. Make the questions short and your answers shorter so you don’t have time to overthink. Begin with something as simple as your favorite color and move toward the areas in the article above with lightness. Make it fun. You have the option to “pass” or “call a friend.” Hearing your own definition of who you are emerge from your own mouth is both grounding and energizing.

Exploring your core can give you the keys to your identity and unlock your full potential.

Jolie Tunnell
Jolie Tunnell is an author, freelance writer and blogger with a background in administration and education. Raising a Variety Pack of kids with her husband, she serves up hard-won wisdom with humor, compassion and insight. Jolie is an ISTJ and lives in San Diego, California where she writes historical mysteries. Visit her at jolietunnell.com