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Finding your Essential Self and Connecting with your True Identity

Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.

~Judy Garland

Who are you at your core?

If you strip away all the extraneous stuff in your life, what would be left?

In modern society, it’s hard to connect to our true identity because of all the static. The expectations, the influences, the demands: all this external pressure makes it difficult to know our true selves.

It can be helpful to take a step back and think about your essential self. By essential self, I mean the person at your very heart, the person you have left after you strip away everything not essential to your being.

Getting to know your essential self

But how do you get to know this person? How can you meet this essential self? The process involves considering all the elements in our lives and identifying those that are part of us in a direct and fundamental way. We need to identify elements in our lives that are truly essential, which might include…

  • Personality traits
    How do you interact with other people when there is no agenda or goal in play? How do you behave when you’re with those you’re most comfortable with, when you’re totally relaxed? The version of yourself that you show to other people might be different depending on who you interact with, but who are you really?
  • Outlook
    How you see the world is an important part of your essential self. Your perception of the world, the environment (including people), and your place in it make up a big part of who you are. How you operate and interact with people on a day-to-day basis is totally dependent on this.
  • Your inner self
    Do you have a good sense of who you are at heart? Are you at peace? Is your inner dialogue positive and constructive, or do you have a lot of negative inner commentary going on? Do you have a strong sense of your spirit, your energy? This is perhaps the most important aspect of your essential self, but it’s also the hardest to understand. It takes a lot of reflection and introspection—and it takes honesty.

One important thing to remember about these elements is that none of them are permanent. Our personalities evolve over time, as do our interests, our outlook, and the people in our lives. If there’s something about our inner selves that we’re not happy with, we can focus our energy and attention on it and develop it over time. Our essential nature is dynamic, and realizing that will also help us understand and embrace the changes in our lives.

Spending time with your essential self

Another way to connect with your true identity is to spend a large chunk of time alone.

What do you do if you want to get to know someone? You spend time with them. You pay attention to them. You listento them. The same is true for yourself—you have to spend quality time alone. And not just watching TV—you have to be mindful, mindful of your reactions to the world around you and the world inside you. Take notice of your feelings and thoughts when you’re not distracted by people or responsibilities. It’s not something that will happen in just one sitting. You have to do this often over months and years. If you can do that, you’ll get to know yourself—well.

Who you are and what you do

We all engage in activities that we feel are part of our essential selves, activities that we feel we could absolutely not live without or we feel that we were born to do. When you engage in these activities, you lose track of time, and they become part of you. The line between who you are and what you’re doing blurs. It comes as naturally as breathing, and you couldn’t imagine not doing them. It might be your work, a creative endeavor, or it might be raising your children. What are the activities in your life that you couldn’t imagine not having?

These kinds of activities are critical to understanding our essential selves, but they are not part of our essential selves. Elements of our essential selves brought us to these activities and made them part of our lives, but if we stopped engaging in these activities, it would not take away any of part of ourselves. We would likely find something else to express that part of who we are.

For example, I love the game of baseball. I have been a fan, a player, and a coach for all of my life. For the last 13 years, I’ve been coaching my son’s teams. I’ve always assumed that I would keep coaching after he grew up and left for college; I love being on the field and around the game, and I love teaching the game. This year, he went to college, and I had a bit of a crisis. My drive to be on the baseball diamond every day had diminished considerably, and I was questioning whether I wanted to continue coaching into the future. A large part of what I was struggling with was the fact that, in my mind, baseball is part of who I am. I thought if I stopped coaching, I’d lose that. But then I realized that the elements of my essential self that brought me to baseball—as a fan, as a competitor, and as a teacher—are still there. My essential self is still intact and evolving. How I express that part of myself is also evolving. Once I came to that realization, I was able to make the decision to quit coaching with less angst.

Knowing who you are will make you stronger

Understanding our essential selves will help us deal with life’s challenges and tragedies. If we understand that all the external forces and events in our lives are fleeting and temporary, it won’t be so much of a shock when our circumstances change. We will always have the person we are at our core. If we get to know our essential self well, that part of who we are will be more resilient.

Understanding who we are will also make us more confident in ourselves and when we interact with other people. If we have a firm understanding of our true selves, we will not question our thoughts, words, and actions because they will be based on a firm understanding of our values, beliefs, and outlooks.

Get to know your essential self, and be true to that identity. Don’t let anything come between you and who you truly are.

Who is the essential you?

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