We are born into this world and given an identity by our parents, who grace us with a name and socialize us to fulfill our role in society. I have heard grown women introduce themselves as “Hi, I’m John and Mary Doe’s daughter.”
My question is, “Who are you?” The answer above identified a role that you play in the family, not who you are as a person.
We expand our perception of ourselves by our choice to attend or not attend educational and religious institutions. I once overheard a student introduce herself in this manner. “Hello, I’m a student here at UAB, let me show you to your classroom.”
As females, we enter womanhood at the start of our monthly menses. This landmark moment begins the process of redefining our identity. We do it by comparing ourselves to other teenage girls; clothes, hair styles, and of course, shoes. All these seem extremely important at the time.
Once again, who are you and what does your style say about you?
Then men enter our lives. We begin to identify ourselves by men’s perception of us as women: attractive, feminine, smart, silly, sexy, etc. When Prince Charming or Prince Frog arrives in our lives, we marry and change our identity. We become Mrs. John Doe. We spend umpteen years with one identity and with the spoken words, “I do,” we become someone else and enter a different role. Just the other day I heard a lady introduce herself as “Mrs. Dr. John Doe.”
I thought I know you are married, your husband is a doctor, and his name is John Doe. What I want to know is, who are you?
Many women enter careers where we compete in a man’s world and learn to identify ourselves with our profession or the company who hired us. It is common to hear, “As vice-president of operations here at John Doe, Inc., I am pleased to welcome you.”
Since you are not the position you hold in this company, who are you?
Women then sometimes enter the great black hole, where adorable offspring of the next generation consume most of their waking moments. This black hole is motherhood, and many mothers don’t come up for air for decades. I often hear this, “Hi, I’m Susie’s mom.” “Mother” is a role in your life. Who are you?
Another milestone of womanhood occurs when our ovaries sputter to a stop and cease delivery of our eggs. This life-altering event bombards us with a host of emotional and physical symptoms, which inconveniently coincides with other life-altering events.
- Children leaving home
- Aging parents
- Reestablishment of a marital relationship after the children leave home
- Marital discord
- Career change decisions
- Realization that you have emotional baggage that must be unpacked, sorted, and resolved.
In the past twenty-six years as a professional counselor, I have assisted women through the process of discovering who they are. This is a national problem, because in western society we are taught to define ourselves by our roles, our hobbies, the things we possess, and our net worth. Our essence as human beings extends well past these labels and material possessions.
I designed this exercise during my own journey of discovery. I also had to find myself and I am still on a journey of self-discovery. This exercise has been helpful to countless women in my counseling practice, in their quest to find themselves.
Five Steps to Personal Discovery
Step 1: On a sheet of paper make three columns similar to the form below. Write the three headings at the top: “Things I Do,” “My Personal Attributes,” and “Roles.”
Step 2: As you can see, I have filled in some of the “Things I Do.” Take a minute and fill in yours now. These are things you do, not who you are. If I were to stop dancing tomorrow and never danced again, I would miss it, but it is not who I am. However, my innate sense of rhythm is an attribute and I can add that to “My Personal Attributes” list.
Step 3: I have filled in some of the “Roles” I play in life. This is not a complete list, but a sample. Take a moment and fill in any “Roles” that you fill. These are the “Roles” you fill, they are not who you are. If all those “Roles” you play disappeared, you would still continue to exist.
Step 4: I have filled in some examples of “My Personal Attributes.” The easiest way for you to do this part of the exercise is to go down each of your “Roles” and think of characteristics of yourself or qualities that you exhibit in each role. For example, as a wife I am loving, affectionate, considerate, etc. Then go down the list of the “Things I Do” and think of qualities you exhibit while pursing these hobbies, such as organized, methodical, etc. Write all these attributes under “My Personal Attributes” column. If you are stuck, have a friend or family member help you. Do not be disturbed if you have conflicting entries. I intentionally entered an example of this, patient and impatient. There are times that I am extremely patient and other times that I am not. Both of these are part of who I am.
Step 5: Take a moment and review your chart. You now have listed your answers in the “Things I Do,” “My Personal Attributes,” and “Roles” categories. The “My Personal Attributes” column is a good start at defining who you really are, a unique combination of characteristics that you express in the roles you play and the things you do in life.
Keep this exercise handy, because new additions to each category will come to mind. This is not the end of your journey of discovery; it is the beginning. Humans are evolving beings, so there is always something new to find. It’s an ongoing process to find out who you are. Happy hunting!