Last week I asked you to think about how you currently define yourself. What did you find? Do you define yourself based on what you do? Do you define yourself based on what you think you should value (instead of what you truly value)? Or maybe you define yourself by something that has happened to you – like an illness (such as cancer).
If you use one of the above methods to define yourself, or any other number of methods that are unrelated to who you are deep within your soul, I’m suggesting that you should take a deeper look. Discover who you REALLY are. How do you know who you really are? The answer lies within your core personal needs and values. Sounds simple, right? Well, yes and no. More on that later.
When going through the exercises discussed below, remember that no one knows you like you do – so don’t define yourself based on how you think others perceive you and/or how you think you’re supposed to be. Please also remember that your core needs and values are yours – no one else’s. And there is no right or wrong. Each one of us is, thankfully, unique. Therefore, each one of us will have a different mix of personal needs and values.
Additionally, please remember that you’re NOT defined by your circumstances or the events that you’re presented with throughout your life. And you’re NOT the mistakes you’ve made in the past. Although these events help to shape you and will inform you during your life, they aren’t who you are. You are so much more than that. Therefore, I ask you to go through the following exercises with a clear mind – let go of how you’ve been defining yourself so that you can discover (or confirm) who you are deep within your soul.
Determining Your Core Personal Needs
Let’s start first with personal needs. I’m not talking about food, water, or shelter, nor am I talking about material possessions. I’m talking about those needs that must get met for you to feel content and satisfied. Ever feel completely frazzled and overwhelmed only to take a step back and discover that you haven’t been satisfying something within you that you know must get met? And once that need is met, the overwhelm is replaced with a sense of calm? That, my friend, is a personal need.
Some would say that our personal needs are not who we are. And I agree with them – to a point. However, our personal needs are an important piece of the puzzle of what makes us who we are. If our needs are not met, they tend to hijack us. When we have unmet needs, they become primary in our lives – and we are unable to satisfy who we really are.
So, how do you identify what your core needs are? Try going through the following exercises:
- Think about when you’ve felt most fulfilled and satisfied in your life. Look for the common thread in these experiences and ask yourself what needs were being met.
- Look to when you’ve been upset or angry with someone or a situation you’ve been in – especially if there is a common theme. Also, identify any patterns of self-sabotaging behavior that you have. What patterns do you see in these situations? What are the underlying reasons behind your actions and reactions? Often, the underlying cause is an unmet need (or a value not being honored – more on that in a bit).
For example, there have been times in my life when I’ve felt as though huge weights were placed on my shoulders and I could barely breath. This feeling would always stop me in my tracks. I could barely function. Come to find out that one of my needs is to feel unrestricted. When I figured that out, so many things in my past made complete sense. It was a huge “aha” moment for me. Before I realized that this feeling related to an unmet need, I would struggle via trial and error to “fix” the problem. Eventually I would figure out how to meet my need. However, because I didn’t realize that my issue was really an unmet need, I would stumble upon the solution almost by accident (and it would usually take me a while to get there). And then something would happen again that would put me right back into the same place – because I had no awareness that this related to an underlying need.
But then I figured out that I had this need and everything became so much easier. In fact, I was better able to deal with it – permanently. Needs can be fully met forever – so long as you’re diligent to ensure that they remain met.
One final note: the fact that we have personal needs does not mean that we are needy. We all have personal needs. And each one of us must get them met to feel whole and fulfilled.
Determining Your Personal Values
Your personal values are the foundation of who you are – they’re ultimately what drive you. Thus, your values are incredibly important – you won’t feel fully at ease or content in the world unless you are honoring them. Values tend to be relatively stable over the course of your life – so long as they are truly your values (and not a value you think you should have or that you wish you had). However, how you define a value can vary over your lifetime. For example, someone who values success may define that in the context of their career throughout their 20’s – when single and without kids. Later in life, success may have a different meaning (such as being a successful parent and/or spouse coupled with a career). Although the value itself hasn’t changed, the way it is defined has.
When trying to determine your values, please remember that there isn’t a right or wrong value. Don’t get caught up in what you think you’re supposed to value. There is no moral weight attached to any of these.
To identify your personal values, go through the following exercises:
- Think about when you get really irritated or react negatively to situations or people – especially when there is a common theme. What is happening or what are they doing in that moment that brings forth such a negative reaction? Why does it bother you so much? It’s likely that the opposite of that relates to a value that you have.
- Think back through your life to what consistently brings you joy. Any pattern you identify should lead you to your top values.
You may be wondering what the difference between a need and a value is – after all, the exercises for determining your needs and your values are similar. Needs must be filled and values must be honored by you. Although you can (and, in fact, must) make choices to ensure your needs get met, they are met both by your choices and actions and through the actions of others. But only you can honor your value – no one can do it for you.
As an example, you may have a need of being loved. That is something that must get filled –by others’ actions and love toward you. You can ensure that this need is met by ending relationships that don’t fulfill your need of being loved and by surrounding yourself with people who honor your need. However, the love comes from others to you. You also may have a value to express love toward others. This value is honored and fulfilled by you in the way that you treat others.
You may find that your needs and values are interconnected (but they don’t have to be). Additionally, a need for one person may be a value for another person (like the example above) – but they are met and honored in different ways.
The Importance of Understanding Who We Are
What’s so important about figuring out who you really are? For one, it makes life easier. When you know who you are you can make decisions that are in alignment with that. And this leads to a much less stressful life – in fact, it makes life more effortless. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I place supreme importance on living intentionally. That is, to make choices for you and your life with intention. It’s impossible to live intentionally without understanding who you are.
Knowing who you really are provides you with a sort of compass. A compass that will guide you in difficult times. No matter what curve-ball life presents you with, this knowledge will be there to guide you. Much like mine did when I battled cancer.
How exactly did this work for me? One of my key values is to have fun in life – which, for me, means that I live with purpose and find joy in each day. If I don’t do this, I’m a very unhappy person and feel as though the life has been sucked right out of me. As you can imagine, dealing with a cancer diagnosis that seemed rather ominous at the outset was a bit of a challenge. However, I focused on the good in my life. My boys and the innocent happiness that they lived within each day. The amazing people who helped me and my family. This allowed me to focus on the beauty and good in the world and be joyful about being alive in the moment. Thus, I honored my value even though I didn’t know what the ultimate outcome would be and was sick much of the time. And it sustained me.
All of this seems somewhat simple, right? Well, kind of. Don’t confuse simplicity with ease. Once you figure out who you are, you may be presented with some tough choices that you’ve been avoiding. It isn’t always easy to make the changes necessary within our lives to live within who we really are – especially if we’ve been previously living our life without complete awareness. But awareness is the critical first step.
Although I promise this is something worth your while, I do want to caution you: getting to know who you are often brings to your attention your warts. It doesn’t mean that you ignore the bad and only look at the good. Nope – you must understand everything about who you are. The good, the bad and the truly ugly. But here’s the interesting thing: the more honest you become with yourself, the more you can change (if you want to). Because awareness leads to choice – and that can lead to meaningful change.
Once you figure out who you are, you get to decide whether you want to be true to yourself. It’s an active choice only you can make. How to do this is a topic in and of itself – one in which I’ll touch upon next week. But before you can even go there, you must first be clear as to who you really are. And my hope is that you’ll choose to define yourself accordingly – instead of defining yourself through something less real and much less true.
Until next time…