Who are you? It’s an easy question, right? Of course you know who you are. You know what you do, you know how you live, you know which people you’re connected to. But is that really who you are?
I think your authentic self is something deeper, something more personal. It’s the place you find answers to questions like, what do you really care about? What breaks your heart? What opens your eyes? What gets your heart racing? When are you in your element? What lights you up? What makes you, you? And how do you bring that true self into your daily life?
Having a house full of kids, my days are made up of six million tiny tasks that all need doing this minute. Some days I just do the next thing and the next and the next without ever thinking about how I want to be present in the doing. I don’t show up as myself, I just show up as a generic mom-person. She’s useful, but she’s not really me. (The real me is less productive but more fun.)
Amy Cuddy, the author of Presence and the researcher behind this TED talk on using body language to shape your life, writes that “the wish to feel and be seen as ‘authentic’ seems like a basic human need,” and that “if our actions aren’t consistent with our values, we won’t feel we’re being true to ourselves.”
But it’s bizarrely easy to lose touch with who that true self is.
For one thing, who you are changes over time. Experience changes us. (That doesn’t have to mean you’ve lost yourself. It could mean you’re becoming more you.) For another thing, we’re all distracted. We spend so much time consuming and comparing and updating and downloading that there’s no room left for thinking about who we are and what we believe.
If I’m not paying attention, I end up wearing the mask of the person I used to be (it’s so comfortable!) or the person I think I’m supposed to be (it’s so acceptable!) or the person who does all the things (it’s so efficient!) instead of who I really am today.
But when I make decisions from a place of knowing and being myself, all the details get simpler. I see more clearly how to spend my time and who to spend it with — and what to stop doing entirely. I know which belongings to let go of because they’re part of my past, not my future. I know when to say yes and when to say no.
Amy Cuddy writes that this is the path toward comfortably expressing your true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential. When you know who you are, you can really show up for your life. You can relax into being your boldest, most grounded self. (Hello, life goals.)
To cultivate that kind of presence, she suggests asking questions that bring out your best self. Try these, from the book:
1. What are your signature strengths?
Some things come easily to you, but not to everyone. You know more about some things, care more about some things, and are just plain good at some things in a way that not everyone is. Your strengths, your gifts, and your passions can all point you toward your best self.
2. What’s unique about you that leads to your happiest times or your best performances?
However you define success — in work, in relationships, in creativity — what is it about yourself that brings you to that place? Maybe it’s your perseverance, your compassion, your courage, or your optimism. Maybe it’s your ability to listen, your willingness to take risks, or your openness to change. What about you helps you to do well and be well?
3. When have you acted in ways that felt natural or right?
Maybe you feel most like yourself when you’re helping or serving. Maybe you feel most alive in community. Maybe you feel like you’re in your natural state when you’re creating something. That best self is part of who you are, too.
It’s a simple question, but not an easy one. Who are you, really? Who are you?
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