Self Discovery: Questions for your Self-Discovery

Self discovery

Self-discovery is the process of figuring out who you are, what you stand for, and what you want out of life. It encompasses many different things, all centered around one element: you as a person. The more you understand who you are, the more you can design your life around your wants and needs.

Many of us have misconceptions about self-discovery. We buy into cultural myths and unhelpful comparisons. Furthermore, we think self-discovery is a one-time process.

Both beliefs hold us back from discovering our true selves.

If you want to find out what self-discovery really entails and how you can use it to improve your life, read on. You have immense purpose in this world – you just need to know how to find it.

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What Self-Discovery Is – and What It Isn’t

When I was a little girl, I used to make up elaborate fantasies in my mind. In all of them, I would emerge a hero, overcoming trials and tribulations in all types of conquests. These childhood daydreams transformed into an underlying desire to find my real purpose in life.

I began writing in my diary, “I want to do something big in life.” I went on to detail how this “big” thing would make my life meaningful.

Did I have any idea what this big thing would be? Absolutely not. But I felt so strongly that it existed in the world, waiting for me, that I considered it only a matter of time before I found it. It was as if my life purpose would simply appear on my doorstep, like a well-timed package. Or I would stumble across it in my daily routine.

As I grew up, and the “big thing” didn’t reveal itself right away, I felt a desperate itch in the back of my mind. What if there wasn’t something big? What if I never found my true purpose?

I never found my grand, true purpose, at least not in the “big thing” sense that I was waiting for as a child. I did, however, find purpose in my life.

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Self-Discovery Is a Process, Not an Answer

Too often, we think self-discovery involves finding one specific answer. Just like when I was a little girl, we assume that a journey of self-discovery will lead us to the magical answer we’ve been searching for. A response to the question: What is my purpose in life?

We also falsely believe that we have one specific purpose. As if we’re assigned at birth a Purpose Tag, and then our Purpose Tag is hidden somewhere out in the world for us to find. (Kind of like how the government knows exactly how much you owe in taxes, but doesn’t tell you and makes you calculate it instead, amIright?)

Purpose is derived from the journey, not some treasure at the end. Self-discovery involves asking questions and finding answers. But it is not a journey with a final destination, nor does it contain a specific answer to our lives.

Self-discovery is the process of discovering ourselves, over and over again, as we find out what gives us purpose in our daily lives.

find purpose

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What We Can Unearth in Self-Discovery

Everyone has different ideas about what self-discovery entails. Some think it’s entirely spiritual, while others see it as all-encompassing. The beauty of self-exploration is that you can decide what you want it to be. For the sake of this post, however, and giving clarity to the concept, I’ve provided a list of examples that you can find in self-discovery.

self discovery

Through self-discovery, you can unearth:

  • What gives you joy

We live in a disease model, which means that we tend to focus on the negatives rather than the positives. Coupled with the fact that our brains are biased to remember negativity more, we’re starting at a bit of a disadvantage. We need to actively train ourselves to focus on positive emotions, like joy, and use them as a starting ground. In your self-discovery, you should become more aware of what fills you with joy in your daily life.

  • What gives you purpose in your life

Have I mentioned how you don’t have one magical purpose? (Okay, good… I just want to make sure that’s crystal clear. Read more about what other myths about finding your life purpose might be holding you back.) Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t live purposeful lives. Finding meaning in your life is not as daunting as you might think. In fact, it merely involves a shift of mindset. Through your self-discovery, you can find – and hopefully design – a life filled with purpose.

  • Your values (a.k.a. what you stand for)

A critical component of your self-discovery is identifying what core values guide your life. These values will provide the foundation for making your decisions, designing your life, and interacting with the world. When we’re not doing things aligned with our values, we often feel lost or imbalanced. You need to know what you stand for if you want to create a purposeful life.

  • Your hopes and dreams

It seems like some people are born with a specific dream. It’s incredibly challenging for the rest of us (normal people) to know precisely what we want. And then, once we do know, we need to fight back an onslaught of fears to fully develop our ideas. As you undertake your self-discovery, you will unearth your hopes and dreams.

  • Your strengths and weaknesses (and how you can use them)

“Who you are” goes beyond your beliefs and dreams. It also includes how you function. On your journey of self-discovery, you should become aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Again, it doesn’t serve you to just focus on your weaknesses. Your strengths are just as important, if not more so, in designing a life that you want to live. You must discover how you can use your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

  • The things that hold you back

Self-discovery is not focused entirely on the good stuff. (Even though it’s all good stuff because you’re learning who you are.) As you work to understand yourself better, you also must focus on the things that hold you back. What is working against you? What defense mechanisms have you developed that no longer serve you? Only when you can name the obstacles can you begin to tackle them.

  • What you have carried with you since childhood

We are profoundly impacted by our childhood. Whether you had a privileged childhood or one that could be featured in a Lifetime movie, you will still carry behaviors and ways of thinking from your younger years. Some might be damaging, while others might be really healthy. Either way, self-discovery is about learning who you are – and your formative years are a big part of who you are.

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Self-Discovery Requires Self-Awareness

You know how, on every major crime show, the detectives follow one clue to the next to solve a crime? They find things like DNA samples, witness testimony, or footage. Every time they find something, new questions arise. Ultimately, these further questions help them find new answers, eventually leading to the truth.

You can probably see the connection I’m drawing between detective work and self-discovery. I make this analogy, however, to highlight an essential difference between the two.

While detectives can pick up evidence from the outside, whether it be from a crime scene or other people, self-discovery often demands evidence from the inside. We must look internally for the clues we need.

For this reason, self-discovery requires us to be self-aware.

Self-awareness is our ability to identify and monitor our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If this sounds simple, it’s not. A multitude of brain biases, cultural influences, and human tendencies inhibit our self-awareness daily. (Learn more about why self-awareness is important here.)

If self-discovery is the process of unearthing ourselves, then self-awareness is the tool we need to dig.

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Self-Discovery Requires Us to Be Vulnerable

The other element we need for our self-discovery journey is vulnerability. Even if you don’t buy into the damaging myths about vulnerability, you still might think vulnerability is only reserved for relationships. However, it requires a great deal of vulnerability to ask ourselves deep questions and face the answers.

You won’t get anywhere with your self-discovery if you’re not willing to be vulnerable with yourself.

I graduated at the top of my class in high school. Many of my teachers eagerly suggested career paths for me. When I attended college (largely lost and confused), I stumbled upon a teaching internship. I loved it, so I ended up taking a teaching position at a boarding school immediately after graduation.

Over my first few years as a teacher, I fought inner critics in my head. Everyone thought you could be a leading mathematician or lawyer, and you’re just a teacher. (Don’t worry, I’ve since learned how to confidently tell myself and others that teaching is an extremely challenging and important profession.)

But at the time, I grappled with what I thought I wanted (self-discovery) and what I thought I should be (false cultural narratives). Thank goodness I found the courage to be vulnerable, withhold judgment, and have faith in the answers I found in my self-discovery.

Self-discovery is a long, sometimes stressful process. You need to be patient with yourself as you learn to trust what you discover about yourself.

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Steps for Self-Discovery: Find Your Purpose

Self-discovery is an ongoing process. As such, it’s going to look different for everyone in its scope and sequence. However, you can follow these seven basic steps to kickstart your self-discovery journey.

how to find your purpose

1. Make sure you have the right mindset

No matter how much you want something, you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t have the right mindset. In the case of self-discovery, this entails understanding what it is you should be doing.

First, you must be open and vulnerable enough to dive in deep. Self-discovery is not something you can “skim” the surface of. Imagine reading a book and saying, “No, I prefer to read the first five paragraphs of even-numbered chapters, and that’s it.” Would you understand what the book is saying? Of course not! The same is true for self-discovery.

Second, you must not be deceived by cultural myths. Our society tricks us about what is meaningful (money, superficial connections, and extraordinary metrics for success, to name a few). Not to mention that we feel like we’re expected to have one life passion, find it early, and live our days fulfilling it.

Finally, you must be patient with yourself. Self-discovery is a journey without a destination. For those of you who like certainty and completion, this might be a challenge for you. (I can’t relate. Nope, not at all, I love living in the moment without plans and control. No problem, bring on the uncertainty.) The more you can lean into this mindset, the more successful your self-discovery will be.

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2. Start with what brings you joy

As I said earlier, we have a tendency to focus on the negative. Let’s imagine that I sat ten people down with a notebook that said, “Start your self-discovery by journaling.” I bet the majority would begin writing about inner conflicts, difficult times, and negative things they want to change. Yes, you’ll have to get to these things eventually, but not at the beginning.

To start your self-discovery, you must first focus on what brings you joy. After all, it’s only when you can identify your brand of joy that you can begin to find purpose. There are two ways you can start with joy. One method is to reflect on everything that brings you happiness in life.

The second method involves visualization. Close your eyes and imagine a moment in your life that you felt the most complete, fullest version of yourself. You didn’t feel any inner turmoil, sense of urgency, or pull to be somewhere else. It should be a time when everything just felt right. Once you have your answer, consider the themes that emerged. What made you feel so joyful? What component do you want to feel in all that you do? What does this say about you?

Your self-discovery can’t take off until you understand what brings you joy.

(Read more about why you must start with joy and celebrate your successes in the post How to Find Your Purpose based on an interview with Tanya Geisler.)

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3. Get curious and ask questions

The word “discovery” can sometimes elicit a passive connotation. When we walk on the beach, we discover seashells. Or when we go into the store, we discover our favorite brand of ice cream (Friendly’s chocolate cookie dough ice cream, anyone?).

When it comes to self-discovery, we need to embody a more active role. Yes, life will throw seashells, ice cream, and various other experiences our way. But it’s up to us to ask questions about these experiences and how they make us feel. Curiosity is one of the most essential qualities for successful people. Why? Because being curious means that you A) ask a question, and B) work to find the answer.

Curiosity also involves setting yourself up for new experiences. In our examples, you took action when you chose to go for a walk on the beach or go to the store. Every day, we decide what to do with our time. If you want to embark on a journey of self-discovery, you must choose to do things that will inspire the questions that you need.

Check out 22 Questions for Self-Discovery.

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4. Explore multiple sources of information

If you wanted to learn all about someone, would you only use one source of information? Would you rely on one person’s opinion, test result, or story to give you a complete picture of who they are as a person? Of course not! Not only would this be drastically incomplete, but you’d risk many biases influencing your perception.

The same notion holds true for when you’re trying to learn all about yourself. If you only rely on one source (generally, ourselves), you’re not going to discover the whole truth. Remember, the human species is incredibly flawed and biased, making it tough to be self-aware.

Now, I’m not saying that you should always doubt yourself or the discoveries you make. But you should explore multiple sources of information beyond your own thoughts. Get feedback from other people. Consider what your life choices say about you, even if you think it’s obvious. Evaluate your relationships, job, environment, and goals. What you find from the outside world might help you better understand your internal one.

The more you can think of self-discovery like an intense research project, the more you’ll uncover the essential truths you’re looking for.

Self awareness activities

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5. Experiment with different exercises and activities

In the same vein, you can also enhance your self-discovery journey by experimenting with different exercises and activities. You might be surprised by what knocks loose a new revelation.

One of my friends used to say that “ambition” was a driving value for him. Then, after taking a couple of personality tests, it quickly became apparent to him that he was much more motivated by relationships and teamwork than by success and personal advancement. He had to shed his previous misconception (no doubt, inspired by cultural narratives and shame) to become a fuller version of himself.

There are tons of quizzes, tests, and activities out there for you to explore. You can learn more about your personality, your strengths, and your self-awareness. Now, the results of an online test probably won’t be the 100% truth you’re looking for. But they will inspire more questions and tell you something about yourself; even if you completely disagree with your results, you can question why it was so wrong.

Furthermore, self-discovery can come from expanding your life boundaries. Try your hand at journaling, painting, or building something. Travel is often associated with self-discovery, and it can give you a new perspective on how you fit in the world. The more you do, the more you can discover.

Check out 20 Activities for Self-Awareness for more ideas on how you can learn more about yourself and find the purpose you’re looking for.

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6. Practice self-care and self-love

If you’re like me, you might want to tackle your self-discovery with the tenacity of a warrior and the dedication of a professional athlete. (A.k.a. Years of deeply-rooted perfectionism and overachieving tendencies.) This might be helpful for some aspects of your self-discovery journey, but not all.

You must be patient with yourself as you work to unearth some of your inner truths. There’s no timeline, and you’ll have to be okay with uncertainty. In fact, it’s in the uncertainty and “not-knowingness” that you’ll discover the most.

As you pursue your self-discovery journey, make sure you practice self-care and self-love. When you feel overwhelmed by the process, allow yourself time to pause and regroup. Turn to your family and friends for support and fun. Give your mind a break and create time for play, comfort, and inspiration.

Because self-discovery also involves discovering what you need and when you need it. You can’t get anywhere if you don’t take care of yourself in the process.

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7. Test your new discoveries in your life

You fully dive into your self-discovery journey, realizing things about yourself that you never knew before. Now, not only are you more self-aware, but you’ve established new beliefs and assertions about yourself. You have discovered yourself. Congratulations on your discoveries!

Now you have to try them on and test them in your life.

Let me use an example of shopping for clothes to explain what I mean. When you’re in the store, you find an outfit that fits you well, so you buy it and bring it home While the purchase phase is done, the life cycle of your discovery isn’t over yet. How many of you have bought a new outfit, only for it to sit untouched in your closet for months? Or, when you wear it for a whole day, you realize that it’s not as perfect as you initially thought? Perhaps you like it at first, but as the months and years go by, you grow tired of it, or your tastes have changed.

As you discover new things about yourself, whether it’s a value, decision, or goal, it’s important that you try them on. Only when you put your truths into the world can you see how they feel. Self-discovery is all about discovery, evaluation, and reevaluation. Rather than seeing this process as inauthentic, try to understand how crucial it is in finding your authentic self.

self discovery journey

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Your Self-Discovery Never Really Ends

Self-discovery is an ongoing process. As much as we’d like it to be something we can complete, that’s not the case. Our lives are a series of experiences and changes. Imagine if you still held onto the beliefs you had when you were a kid. I’d wager to guess that you’re a different person now than you were twenty, ten, five, or even one year ago.

When I was in high school, I worked hard to be the best at everything I did. I attached my purpose to being the best student, the best athlete, and the best person I could be. My ambitions served me well at the time – I graduated as both valedictorian and student of the year.

In college, I continued to try to be the best. It didn’t take me long to realize that being the valedictorian in my college class of 600 would take a lot more time than it did in high school. So I shifted my focus, striving for good grades without being the best. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the time that I wanted for friends and basketball.

When I entered my first job as a teacher, I struggled quite a bit with myself. How could I be the best teacher? What did I have besides grades and ranking? If I didn’t derive my purpose there, what else did I have to fall back on? After some serious bumps along my journey, I began to discover what else gave me meaning. Slowly, I redefined what gives me purpose.

As I continue on with my life, what gives me purpose will no doubt change. And that’s okay. Because right now, I know what gives me purpose, and I’m able to define my life around it.

What is true for you today might not be true for you tomorrow, and that’s okay. Rather than seeing this as inauthenticity, try to view it through the lens of growth. Contrary to what we may want, there’s no “Happiness Level” that we can reach and then exist in. Instead, real happiness comes from the never-ending self-discovery process.

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Why is Self-Discovery Important?

Self-discovery is an ongoing and complicated process. It requires courage, vulnerability, and self-awareness. If it’s so challenging, then why is it worth it?

Not only is it worth it, but it’s necessary to live a meaningful life.

Humans are wired to compare ourselves to others. This tendency stems from our evolutionary monkey days. It’s rooted in our need for belonging and social status as a means of survival. Because these needs are so powerful, we often let them become the driving forces in our life. We give up our true selves to fit in with others. We live by societal values and cultural metrics of success rather than our own.

As a result, we struggle to find the purpose in our lives that we are so desperately searching for.

Self-discovery is learning to trust yourself rather than the world around you. However, before you can trust yourself, you need to determine who it is that “you” are. Once you find that out, you can begin to create a life with purpose and joy.

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Conclusion

Self-discovery is the process of finding out who you are, what you stand for, and what you want out of life. It doesn’t lead to one decisive answer, but instead ever-changing truths that will give your life meaning.

As you embark on your journey of self-discovery, you can discover:

  • What gives you joy
  • What gives you purpose in your life
  • Your values (a.k.a. what you stand for)
  • Your hopes and dreams
  • Your strengths and weaknesses (and how you can use them)
  • The things that hold you back
  • What you have carried with you since childhood

Self-discovery requires a great deal of self-awareness and vulnerability. Learn how to be more self-aware and how to be vulnerable if you want to be successful on your self-discovery journey.

Everyone’s journey of self-discovery will look different. Still, there are seven steps you can take to dive into your self-exploration and find your purpose.

  1. Make sure you have the right mindset
  2. Start with what brings you joy
  3. Get curious and ask questions
  4. Explore multiple sources of information
  5. Experiment with different exercises and activities
  6. Practice self-care and self-love
  7. Test your new discoveries in your life

Your self-discovery never really ends, but the more you lean into the process, the more you can create a purposeful, joyful life. You will learn to listen to and trust yourself.

Inspired to start your own journey of self-discovery? Put your email below to get my weekly newsletter and updates on my upcoming content. I’ll be releasing a Self-Discovery Course later this summer that you won’t want to miss!

In the meantime, choose a question and post a comment below.

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2 thoughts on “Self Discovery: Questions for your Self-Discovery”

  1. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this
    topic to be really something which I think I would
    never understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for
    me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

    my homepage: blog3009

    1. Hi, thanks for being vulnerable and posting a comment! I’ve actually been thinking about your comment since I read it yesterday. As I try to make self-discovery easier to understand, I don’t want to make it seem like it’s easy to do. Kind of like how you can explain to someone how cars work, but that doesn’t mean they’d be ready to go out and build one! It’s super complex and super broad – which means it takes tons of time. It’s not something you can put on your to-do list and check off; it’s a never-ending process.

      If you haven’t already, sign up for my newsletter because your comment has inspired what I want to write for it! Thanks !!

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