Have you ever thought about who you are? What you stand for?
I’m not talking about your roles or social identities. You can be a friend, brother/sister, employee, boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, partner, father/mother, son/daughter, all at the same time, but these are just an aspect of you. They don’t represent who you fundamentally are inside. Your inner self is who you really are on the inside.
To know your inner self is to know your purpose, your values, your visions, your motivations, your goals and your beliefs. Not as what you have been told by other, but what you have discovered for yourself. Knowing your inner self requires a high level of introspection and self-awarness. If you have clarity to at least half of what is listed above, you probably hold quite a high level of self-awareness. At the same time, the process of discovery never ends – it’s a life-long journey.
You Are More Than Your Identities
Trying to uncover your inner self can be a tricky process. For one, you hold multiple identities in your life, each with their own sets of socially defined values, visions, expectations, etc. These may not directly conform with what you represent.
For example, let’s say you are an employee of an automobile company. As an employee, your mission should be congruent with whatever your company’s mission is, say to improve quality of people’s lives through automobile manufacturing. Your goals should also be in line with the company’s, say to increase company’s sales by 20% in 1 year and expand its regional presence.
However, you as a person have other dreams and goals outside which differ from your company’s. Perhaps you really love volleyball with a passion. Your ideal vision is to be an internationally accomplished volleyball player and become a highly sought-after volleyball coach, training national-level teams. That’s definitely different from the visions you are expected to have as an employee. Likewise, this applies to all your other identities too. For every identity, you have a set of purpose/values/visions/motivations/goals/beliefs which are not entirely the same as your inner self’s.
Because everyone is unique, your real self can’t be boxed in by any single identity or label. I’m a personal coach to my coaches, a son to my parents, a brother to my sister, a friend to my friends, a blogger to my readers, but I’m more than just that. These are just roles and titles. None of the roles by themselves accurately surmise who I am. The inner me is someone who cannot simply be defined or labeled by any one label.
A good analogy to use would be the sunflower. Your inner self is like the bulb of the sunflower (the center part where petals are attached to). Your identities are like the petals around your inner self. While the petals are extensions of the head, they are not the head. Similarly, your identities are extensions of yourself, but they do not represent who you are wholly.
Importance of Finding Your Inner Self
If you have never given much thought about your inner self, it is likely you have become defined a lot by your identities. It is common for people to see themselves as a certain role, such as a friend, partner, employee, son/daughter, and so on. Some spend their whole lives building themselves around such identities. Take those identities away, and they get totally lost, because they have a low awareness of who they are on the inside. These people are not be able to articulate his/her own visions, goals and dreams beyond what have been imposed by his/her identities.
For example, someone who is entrenched in his identity as a son will see his entire existence as a son. He will act in accordance with what’s best for his parents. He will spend a lot of time with his parents, do things for his parents, forsake other things in his life if it’s needed to make them happy. When it comes to making important decisions, such as career or life partner, he makes sure his parents are in approval before he takes any action. His parents are the central focus of his life.
However, his real self is more than just being a son to his parents. If his parents are to ever exit from his life, he will be in a state of total loss. His life will start spiraling out of control since the anchor he has been building his life on so far is gone. It’s like when the bulb of the sunflower disappears, all the petals will scatter away randomly since there is nothing to hold them together. When you become overly attached to any one of your identities, you run into the risk of an identity crisis when that particular identity is removed.
That’s why it’s important to find your inner self. You are the owner of your own life and you live your life for yourself. This life is one that’s defined by you, not what is defined by your roles or identities. If you are not connected with who you really are, you are probably just living your life for others. Pursuing others’ goals, living up to others’ expectations and projections of you, rather than what you really want. To know your inner self is the first step of living a conscious life of your making.
Knowing Your Inner Self Comes From Self-Awareness
As mentioned in the beginning of the article, knowing your inner self comes from being self-awareness. Even if you do not have full clarity on who your inner self is, it is likely that certain aspects of inner self are already exhibited on a day-to-day basis through how you assume your identities. For example, if you find yourself often extolling on being responsible to your parents, responsibility is likely one of your inner values. If you feel a compelling need to always be there for your friends, reliability is probability an important value to you.
It is perfectly okay if you don’t know your inner self. Discovering and unraveling it is a life long process. If I use myself as an example, the 10-year old definitely wasn’t as self-aware as the 35-year old today. When I was in primary and secondary school, I didn’t really know who I was or what I stood for. I don’t think anybody at that age did actually. Everyone was just focused on doing what they were told. There wasn’t much introspection or self-awareness going on. We never really made to think about who we were, what we thought or who we wanted to be. While we had our own personalities, they were probably hazy at best.
Come think of it, I think the reason why self-awareness was low was because conformance was highly valued in schools (or Asian societies, for that matter). To have an opinion was seen as being defiant. Our tasks were generally to process and execute instructions, not to troubleshoot or question. If you have some different thoughts, you would generally be frowned upon or shut down. That’s why we never so much as thought about what we wanted. We were more like robots just doing our things, or sleepwalkers as I commonly refer to here.
When I went into Junior College and subsequently University, I grew more self-aware. A lot of it came about from increased liberty, for example from choosing courses or classes. More onuses in decision making triggered me to do more thinking – about what I wanted to do and what I wanted for the future. Of course, a lot of activities I was doing on the side was also growing me in different ways.
In the recent few years as I worked in my company and subsequently proceeded to embrace my passion, I grew to learn myself even more. Every day is a learning journey in discovering who I am and what I stand for. The more I uncovered about myself, the more I am able to live in a conscious manner.
What’s Beneath Your Identities?
Let’s try an exercise to discover your inner self. Start off by mentally removing all those different identities that you have been layered with for a moment. This means stop thinking yourself as a brother, a colleague, a friend, or whatever identity you commonly associate yourself with. Think as just yourself.
With a pen and paper, start writing whatever comes to mind as you read the questions below.
- What is your life purpose? What is the purpose you see your life to have? (If you don’t know your purpose, check out my 7-part series on Discovering Your Real Purpose)
- What are your visions for yourself, independent of anyone else? What goals & dreams do you have for yourself in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years or even 10 years?
- What are YOUR motivations in life? What gets you going, day after day? What will you fight for? What do you feel passionately about?
- What are your values? What are the qualities important to you?
- What are your beliefs of the world? What are your world views?
If this is the first time you are ever doing such an exercise, you will probably fall into a bit of a jam. Some of the answers you write out be from one of your social identities. If you are very family-centric, you might find your answers wholly centered on taking care of your family. It’s totally fine to have such an answer but that should not be the only answer you are conjuring up. Start thinking beyond your family. What are your visions for yourself, outside of family? What are your personal motivations in life?
Don’t worry if you have difficulty getting things down. Even if it may seem that you are drawing up a blank, there is a real you that lies beneath all those social identities, waiting to be uncovered.
Here are some steps which I found to be useful in uncovering my inner self:
- Continuously learning and growing
- Putting myself in unknown contexts to spike my learning curve
- Constant introspection
- Looking beyond what I’m told to discover what I want for myself
- Listening to my gut feeling when it arises
By doing this exercise, you have already triggered the search process. No matter how deeply embedded your inner self is at the moment, this request will ripple out, slowly but surely, and stir the depth of your soul. You will start becoming more aware of your thoughts and actions. Soon, you will be to carve out an impression of who you really are on the inside. Eventually, you will reach a stage where you have strong clarity of who you are as a person.
Aligning with Your Inner Self
As you uncover more of your inner self, you will probably find your identities do not match to your inner self. There’s a conflict between who you really are and who you are expected to be. If that’s the case, it’s fine. It’s a first step to have already discovered who you are. The next step is to live in alignment with your inner self, as best as you can, within the situation. At the same time, start making long term plans toward ultimately living in full alignment with your inner self.
For example, when I was working in my ex-company, my inner self was passionate about helping others to grow via conscious living. However, my identity as an employee required me to maximize the business of Project Consultancy. That meant crafting excellent business and marketing strategies to trigger Projects. In my opinion a lot of the frameworks in that industry operate in are of pretty low consciousness (levels of desire, fear), so it wasn’t something that was in line with my inner self. There was a conflict between my identity as an employee and my inner self.
What I did then was to live in alignment with my inner self as best as I could while working in my capacity as the employee, while kicking off plans to pursue my passion in the long term. Since I couldn’t do anything to change the nature of the work I was doing, I focused on I could effect – establishing strong relationships with the colleagues I came into contact with and raising their consciousness through every interaction and meeting we had. Eventually, the opening came for me to make the leap in 2006. This marked the biggest step where I closed in the gap with my inner self. The rest, as they say, is history.
Every action you take should move you toward your inner self. If there are identities which do not fit who your inner self represents, there will be two possible options you can take. First, try to find the common ground between those identities and your inner self. This may involve shaping the identities to fit who you are. If that doesn’t work at all, the other (more drastic) option will be to remove or change the identity altogether – i.e., when I left my previous company to remove my identity as the employee , or when I shed limiting friends or energy vampires away from my life.
This has resulted in me becoming more and more congruent as a person. Today, I’m at a place where my identities are well matched with who I am on the inside. While there’s definitely still room for further alignment, they are quite congruent with one another. And all these didn’t happen by chance. They came about as a result of conscious effort.
Focus on finding your inner self, then start living in alignment with it. That’s when you start to live a conscious life.