What is the best expression of your true self: Kindness? Ambition? Patience? Hard work? Creativity? Loyalty? Of course we cannot reduce our selves to a single trait; each of us is a unique snowflake of qualities transforming over time. But is there a string of words that approximates your essence right now? Insightful-creative-practical-connector? Thoughtful-supportive-verbal-synthesizer?
You might think in this age of Facebook where personal branding is so common that most people have a clearly developed idea of who they are in the world. But public mirrors often distort and are rarely the surest reflection. To truly uncover our authentic selves we need to dive within, often away from external pressures to reveal and perform. Better yet, we need to carve out a self-reflective space in which we can explore and ponder who we are following our own pace and style.
That is not to say that people and outside resources are not helpful in illuminating our deepest selves. As you swim in the potentially murky water of your personality it's tricky to perceive exactly what is distinctly you. Loved ones and objective observers often see our innate gifts better than we do. Ask some of those people you trust to list your outstanding attributes and see if they don't mention something that surprises you either for its accuracy or insight.
Ultimately though, the goal is not to create a definitive list of splendid qualities, but rather to have a very precise felt sense of your essential self; to know in your bones who you are. Why? Because this is the basis from which you can make choices that best express who you are. Every day we make choices about what to focus on, what to ignore, what to do, what to say, who to relate to, and so on. Our lives take shape moment by moment through our cascade of choices.
So what happens when we make choices that do not express of our truest selves? If we are paying attention, we learn a lot. All of us have scads of stories about youthful (and not so youthful) deeds which taught us something about who we really are and just as importantly, who we are not. Recalling these moments may evoke a wince, laughter, grief, and hopefully insight and compassion.
Inauthentic choices can also put us to sleep or make us numb. Facing up to the consequences may be more than we can deal with at the moment—a stagnant career, an out dated relationship, an ill-fitting home base. Eventually we need to garner the resources necessary to support us in waking up to new options that reflect our current selves.
Perhaps the most profound consequences of our not making choices which express our truest selves are what we lose: the joy that comes from expressing our essential self and the incredible possibilities that emerge when our choices come from our core. When we are finally able to focus on what is most important to us, what we truly wish to say, what we really want to do—as it aligns with our highest and best self in this very moment—we often experience a profound sense of connection, peace, flow, even transcendence. All is well and we feel it deeply and fully.
Take one minute to write down your essential best qualities right now. Don't be shy. This is your list. Next ask a good friend to list a few of your best qualities. (Tell them it's an assignment if that makes it easier to ask.) After hearing their comments, are you surprised by anything they mention?
Create a day that expresses your best self. It can be what you choose to do that day, or how you think about your choices on a given day. Pose the question "What Would Your Essential Self Express?" (a.k.a. WWYESE pronounced "wise"). The goal is not to do this perfectly (because who knows what that means), but to learn who you are at your essence now and which choices best express you.
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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