How do you know who you are? By James Mapes

That’s a question that could bend your mind and tax your imagination. It’s certainly not new. The Greek aphorism “Know thyself”, was inscribed on the frontispiece of the ancient Temple of Apollo at Delphi and adapted by Socrates, the philosopher who said: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” But, how many of us really do examine our lives? I’ve been told by a great number of people that they’re afraid of what they will discover. If we choose not to know who we are, how can we make positive, healthy choices and help others do the same?

If you are a fearless searcher, take a stab at answering: How do you know who you are?

In order to discover the superficial answer, you might look at your driver’s license, birth certificate or passport. Unfortunately, that will not provide you with the insight you need. You might also try looking in the mirror. However, that would only verify your existence, not provide you with understanding as to your nature. You might choose to embark on popular exercises of self-discovery by asking, “Who am I?” several times and writing down a series of answers. Or, you could take a workshop on self-awareness and/or seek the help of a therapist. If that’s the route you choose, you will most likely uncover many of your beliefs, fears, biases, prejudices, values, strengths and weaknesses. Certainly that information will help you form a picture of who you are. However, recent articles on neuroscience have suggested that many of our internal models about who we believe we are turn out to be false, leading to incorrect assumptions about ourselves. Perhaps there is a more effectual way to the path of self-discovery.

Let me give you a clue to solving this conundrum by asking you to participate in one of my favorite exercises. Pause at the end of this paragraph to quickly look around your environment. Notice everything that is red or orange – including pictures, rugs, clothes, curtains, furniture, lamps, and photos. Please do so now.

Next, without moving your eyes from these words, answer this question. Can you remember the objects that were red or orange? Think about it. I’m sure you can. Next, without looking around your space, can you recall the objects that are the color blue? I seriously doubt that you can. You were able to recall the objects that were red or orange – and not the blue ones – because, in a very short period of time, I conditioned you to be aware of only red and orange. In a sense, I helped you turn on your “awareness” antennae, something you do all the time – based on your conditioning, beliefs and expectations. The reality is that you see what your mind is conditioned to see.

With the color exercise in mind, answer these questions: In general, whom do spiritual people surround themselves with? Simple answer: others who are spiritual. How about those who volunteer their time, have an interest in creativity or those who do drugs? On it goes.
Herein lays the answer to the universal question: How do you know who you are? You know who you are by the people you choose to be around or, in some cases, the lack of people. Like noticing the colors red or orange, you bring other people into your life – negative or positive – who reflect who you are at your core.

Let me give you a few personal examples. I am curious and a seeker of knowledge. Therefore I surround myself with others who are curious seekers and, hopefully, smarter than me. My wife and I are cheerleaders for our friends’ success. Those in our lives are also cheerleaders for others’ triumphs.

How about those who seem not to fit this formula? Don’t dismiss those whom you consider opposite of you, because they are also an important element in knowing who you are. For example, I am somewhat chaotic and disorganized. Two of my closest friends and my wife are extremely organized. They are also a reflection of my inner-self.

We can also enlighten ourselves by identifying life-diminishers, naysayers, overly fearful and negative people who are in our lives. If you don’t like what you see around you, maybe it’s time for change – to learn, grow and align your expectations with reality.

A warning – as you discover who you are, you will grow emotionally. As you grow emotionally, you may choose to spend your time with different people than before, and even eliminate some from your circle. Change often comes with renewal. It can take great courage to know who you are. You can do it.

James Mapes is a best-selling author and Keynote Speaker