Personal Development – Taking Inventory
“I always looked to my mom for what to wear, what to say, what to eat, what to major in….everything. I hoped if I did everything she wanted, she’d finally stop criticizing me. She never has. Now I have no idea who I am and how I should be living my life. I really don’t know myself and what I like…..I don’t even know whether I like this jacket I’m wearing.” -Kara
This quote is from one of my patients, Kara, who had recently undergone weight loss surgery and was struggling with the “who am I?” question. This question is very common question among my patients, many of whom haven’t gotten to know themselves because they’ve spent their lives trying to gain the approval of parents or other authority figures, fit in with peers, avoid punishment, or simply survive. Such folks reach adulthood with a profound sense of identity confusion: confusion about how to lead an authentic life. When I say “authentic life,” I’m referring to a life that “feels right” because it reflects one’s true self: one’s genuine passions, preferences, opinions, wants, and needs. It’s a life in which one’s true self is reflected in choices about relationships, career, free-time, and self-expression.
Let me give another example of a patient’s experience of identity confusion or “lack of authenticity.” Kate came to see me after her recent graduation from a prestigious college. She came from a “high achieving family” where she was “expected to be number one at everything I did.” Kate gave this response when I asked her what she would like to do with her newly-acquired free time:
“I honestly don’t know. I never know what to do with myself when I have free time. It gives me anxiety. I guess I should work-out. I honestly don’t know what I like to do. I’ve always just studied.” -Kate
Self-Realization / Self-Discovery
Do you feel like Kara or Kate? Are you unsure about your preferences, opinions, wants, needs, and passions? Are you unclear about the types of activities that give you a sense of joy or contentment? Are you uncertain about what you want and need in a friend or relationship partner? Are you unsure about “everyday things” such as what you like to wear or how you’d like to decorate your personal spaces? Are you unclear about what career is “right” for you? If your answer is “yes” to any or all of these questions, take heart- you are not alone, and the journey of self-discovery is an exciting one, rich with rewards. In my book, The Weight Loss Surgery Coping Companion, I lead readers through a series of questions and exercises for uncovering their authentic selves. I’d like to share some of those questions below, and I encourage your to reflect on them and perhaps even write your responses in a journal:
*What aspects of my life feel “right?” What aspects feel “wrong?”
*Does my career feel like a good fit for me? Why or why not?
*What am I passionate about? Am I spending time on those passions?
*Have I lost touch with things that I used to be passionate about?
*What kind of person is a healthy fit for me as a friend? As a relationship partner?
*Do I dress in a way that reflects my true tastes and preferences?
*Does the décor in my personal spaces reflect my true tastes and preferences?
*What activities and experiences make me feel joyful and alive?
*What activities and experiences deplete my energy and bring me down?
*What types of people make me feel joyful and alive?
*What types of people deplete my energy and bring me down?
What did you learn about yourself by answering these questions? Did anything take you by surprise? Do you feel compelled to do anything based on your answers? I truly hope that these questions serve you as a first-step in embarking on a path of self-discovery. In my upcoming blogs, I will provide exercises to further help you explore and discover your authentic self, and make choices based on that authenticity. As I said earlier, the path to self-discovery is rich with rewards- I hope that you join me for the journey!