I know that the term “finding yourself” has taken on a cheesy meaning because of all of the books and teenage girls sharing one pair of jeans or women traveling to India post-divorce and emotionally connecting to a Peacock. But, cheesy media aside, we do all have to find ourselves. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all do find ourselves eventually. Even men of the toxic masculinity variety who never discuss feelings will find themselves (they just won’t talk about it that way). What does it mean to find yourself? I like to think that, when we’re children, we are the most in touch with ourselves. We don’t know anything about fears. We don’t know much about being insecure. We haven’t encountered the concept of the “cool kids” or magazines telling us how to lose weight. We just ask ourselves, “What feels good to me, right now?” and we do that. Of course, we can’t behave like that forever because society would collapse. But, between having our hearts broken and trying to fit in, we lose ourselves somewhere along the line. And we have to find ourselves again, while still carrying on as responsible adults. Here are misunderstandings about finding yourself.
You have to travel far away
You do not need to quit your job and travel across the world to a remote area where nobody owns an iPhone and spend time with silent monks in order to find yourself. That is very expensive, and not possible for most people. You can find yourself in your home, amongst your regular friends and family. It’s all about getting more in touch with what feels right and wrong to you. You are no more in touch with that in Thailand than you are in your apartment.
And it can be done, all in one trip
Oh, also, these movies that show people finding themselves on a trip are silly for another reason: nobody finds themselves in a matter of two weeks. It’s a multi-year process. Furthermore, it’s best done in your natural habitat. What you learn in India may not apply to your regular life and responsibilities back in your city.
You have to change your diet
You do not need to give up gluten and sugar to find yourself. In fact, you probably shouldn’t make a giant and unsustainable diet change, in the hopes of finding yourself. Whatever you think you find there is probably just the moodiness that comes from being deprived of carbs.
It can be too late
If you’re still alive, it’s not too late. You don’t know how many years you have left, but whatever that number is, wouldn’t you rather spend it feeling liberated than still making all of your decisions based on fear and insecurity?
A huge loss must trigger it
Just because something terrible hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean you are not someone who would benefit from finding yourself. In movies, someone always finds herself after a major loss like the death of a loved one or a divorce. But, you don’t have to be miserable to feel motivated to find yourself. If you feel less than happy, you could benefit from learning why that is and what you could do about it.
You must go off the grid
You don’t need to go off into the wilderness with no cell reception and cancel all of your social media accounts in order to find yourself. This, again, is actually problematic because you should find yourself within your ordinary life. What’s the use in finding yourself under conditions that are rare and hard to replicate? You’ll just lose yourself when you return to your ordinary life.
It happens consciously
You don’t just get to say, “Right now, I’m finding myself” and—poof—it happens. In fact, we tend to find ourselves in retrospect. If you do know that something needs to change and you are willing to do things differently, shake up your routine, and listen to your own needs more, then later—only after doing that for a long time—will you be able to analyze what you learned.
You must change your friend group
Maybe there are some friends you could do without, but in general, you don’t need to completely shed your friend group and find a new one. You attracted those friends because they do appeal to a big part of who you are. In fact, some of them might know you better than you know yourself. They could help you find yourself.
A therapist will do it for you
If you’re willing to see a therapist, that’s great! That’s brave and that’s progress. However, don’t think that just because you write a therapist a check and sit on her couch that you’ll find yourself. Finding yourself in a therapist’s office still takes a lot of work on your part—it just adds structure to the work.
You must sexually experiment
I mean, if you want to, you certainly can. But you don’t have to—like many women do in many films about finding one’s self—experiment sexually and attend an orgy party or switch teams for a month. Finding yourself, in fact, should be a more personal thing that doesn’t involve other people too much.
You must use illicit substances
You also do not need to, as some movies would have you believe, go off into the desert with a little baggy of illicit substances to find yourself. That isn’t finding yourself: that’s called tripping balls.
You must leave your relationship
You may need to leave your relationship, or you may not. Your partner, like your friends, may be one of the few keys to finding yourself. Your true self might be who is attracted to your partner, and you should follow that instinct. Then again, if you are unhappy in your relationship then, yes, you should probably leave it—finding yourself or no finding yourself.
It’s all done in the mind
Finding oneself doesn’t happen in the mind. It isn’t a little homework assignment that can be accomplished in a journal. It’s done through experiences. Sitting around and self-analyzing won’t do the trick. You need to put yourself in action.
You learn a lesson, then you change
Unfortunately, old habits die hard. You may realize that you have a certain bad pattern or unhealthy behavior, and that’s great! That’s not easy to admit. But you won’t change it right away. You’ll still mess up a few times. Go easy on yourself—knowing the change you must make is half the battle. Now give the second half (implementing those changes) some time.
You only do it once
You may find and lose yourself many times in your life. Extreme and life-altering circumstances like careers gone wrong and marriages gone wrong can cause us to lose touch with ourselves. And you change. Your moral compass moves. You may take on this task a few times in your lifetime.