Over the last year, I’ve been taking a deep look at what I did in the past, why I do what I do now, and what it truly means to reach my full potential in a way that’s authentic to my true identity.
In school, I was in the top 1 percent in terms of standardized tests, grades, etc., so I naturally took that on as my identity, what made me special, and the place I was “supposed” to be. But looking back, I don’t believe I was living in congruence with my true self. I was smart enough and disciplined enough to make academic results happen, but my true self is very tenderhearted and would have rather spent time with people than accomplishing tasks. I would have felt a lot more like myself in high school had I gotten some A’s and B’s while still finding the time to cultivate deeper relationships.
Over the years, it’s been exciting to see the relational part of me develop more and more as I allow the labels of “high achiever, successful, top performer,” etc., to fall off.
Likewise, you’re not a set of labels. You’re you.
Your sense of identity drives your behavior. So when you’re confused about who you are, you’ll have a lot of confusion about how you should invest your time.
A few signs that there’s a conflict between who you think you need to be and who you actually are, particularly at work, include:
- Dreading going into the office
- Feeling drained by the majority of the work you do
- Needing people to notice and acknowledge what you did
- Sleeping more than usual
- Feeling like an impostor
Now, you may be really good at what you do. You may even receive a lot of accolades for your work. But you’ll never feel energized by your work and satisfied with your life if you’re constantly trying to make yourself be someone who you are not.
So how do you discover your true identity and go from making smaller choices, like what to do this afternoon, to bigger choices, like whether to look for a new career? Here are a few strategies:
- Look for accurate mirrors. Spend time with people who accept you for being you. You can tell you’re around those kinds of people when you feel you can relax, you don’t need to prove anything, there’s no pressure to fit in, and you are allowed to agree or disagree while still feeling totally accepted and like you belong.
- Notice what gives you energy. Your body is often wiser than your mind. Allow it to tell you when you’re aligned with your authentic self. Hint: Any activities that give you headaches and make you feel unusually exhausted are not right for you, no matter how many people tell you that you’re good at them.
- Question your assumptions. As I shared above, much of what I thought was my true identity was not at all who I truly was on the inside. It was simply a set of behaviors I adopted as a way to get affirmation and feel secure in the world. Take a step back and ask yourself, “If I felt completely loved, secure, and had all the money in the world, would I still define myself in the same way I do now?”
- Remember your childhood. Many times, our identities were less confused as kids. We did what we wanted because we found it fun, not because it was expected. Some of the greatest joys I’ve experienced in the past few years came from remembering childhood pleasures and pursuing them again, like playing soccer after 18 years off the field.
I have come to believe that reaching your full potential is not about pushing yourself as hard as possible to reach higher external markers of success. Instead, I now see that reaching your full potential is about doing the work that speaks to your unique talents in a way that allows you to act like your true self, instead of turning into a machine or a carbon copy of some ideal.
I believe you and I can end the confusion about who we are and what we should do when we start to embrace our true identity and align our behaviors accordingly.