Do you Feel Lost? Make a Map!

I would love for you to take a minute right now and think about yourself. Not the role you play at work, nor in your friend group, nor in your family, but your own personal view of who you are. Write down a list of the adjectives you would use to describe your attributes (i.e. smart, funny, possessive, etc.) Take your time, and be honest with yourself about both the good and the bad attributes you have. Don’t worry; you don’t have to show anyone. Hopefully it was a long list and hopefully it feels incomplete, even when you run out of words. 

Once you have a list, take a break. Go do something like take a walk or do a chore you have been putting off and come back to the list when you are done.

Welcome back! Now, go down your list of attributes one by one. Read each word, and just sit with it for a minute. Go through the whole list this way. As you do this, gauge your emotional reaction to each word. Say it outloud “I am _____!”  You may now feel an urge to cross off some of the words or alter them in some way. My recommendation is to put an asterisk next to those words but keep them. You may feel that some of these words don’t describe you 100% of the time – asterisk those too. You may even be feeling that you wish you more strongly embodied some of these words, even if you feel you are generally this way.

The other thing you should consider, as you read this list, is whether this is truly a way you see yourself or if it is a word many others have used to describe you. A good way to test this is to think of a moment in your life that you embodied this word. For instance, if you wrote “confident” on your list, think of the last time you felt confident. Was it an occasion when you received accolades, or did you feel that way before anyone lauded you?

Honesty is important in this exercise. It is to show that if your life changed in a drastic way, what are the parts of you that would allow you to still be you. This is how you would know that you are still the same person – that even if you experience something that traumatizes you, these aspects will be there to bring you back and help you to know yourself again. It is also a handy gauge to measure growth. Keep this list, and add to it if you find a new word to describe yourself. 

If you want to actively use this list, think of what you would like to add to it. “I wish I was more____.”  This is a good way to find out what you feel you are lacking. Exploring this, in itself, may be a revealing process. This may help you to see what you are taking for granted about yourself or where you may be too hard on yourself. It may even help you see that it’s okay to not embody an aspect that many others may crave to embody.

Also, because you have a list of both the good and bad aspects, when you feel you need a change, you have a master list to refer to now. Recalling the last time you felt one of the listed  positive attributes may reveal attributes that have become latent within you that could be rekindled. You may look at a word on your list a year from now and realize you haven’t felt that way in awhile. It’s a chance to examine what changed to decrease the presence of that attribute in your personality. Now you can work on bringing it back.

You can use the negative attributes as a place to work on yourself by becoming more aware of when you display these attributes. Does your life feel stagnant or frustrating most of the time? Look at these attributes and ask yourself if they could be contributors to why things feel the way they do and how you can reduce those attributes. When are these attributes most present in your life and why? Is it a situation that can be handled differently or removed entirely?

This isn’t intended for scrutiny on a daily basis. This is your own personal map of who you are. You can look at it as infrequently as you like. If you had a hard day, you can remind yourself of who you are with this list. If things seem to be going haywire around a situation in your life, you can see which negative traits may be contributing to it. It may even transform a situation like that into a chance to make the change you always wanted to make. This is meant to be the foundation of who you know yourself to be. It will change, because people change. You can add and subtract whatever words should be added or removed as long as you are still being honest in the process.

I believe that ultimately, in life, we are the most important thing we have. Jobs, children, lovers and passions all feel more important most of the time. It is the core of who we are, though, that we rely on to sustain all of those things. The stronger you make that core and the better acquainted with it you are, the more you’ll be able to sustain the things you cherish. You are the foundation of all the things in your life. There may be others contributing to some of the elements that seem vital but that does not remove your incredibly important role, and when it pertains solely to your life you are the central piece. 

No matter how much you do for others or sacrifice on their behalf, it is of extreme importance that you focus on and care for yourself whenever possible. If you are doing for others relentlessly and never factor in your own needs, your life will inevitably be disrupted by your needs whether you like it or not. Respect your body, respect your mind, respect your heart. You may not realize how important these things are to all you cherish, but if you think about it none of those things would exist without you. Your life and your experiences are unique to you, so make the map to help you see what direction to take next, to pursue greater joy and fulfillment not only for you but all the things your life touches. The results may surprise you.