It’s “Connect with Self” Week at Heartspoken.com.
The first week of each month this year will focus on ways to get to know yourself better. “He who knows others is learned; He who knows himself is wise.” (Lao-tzu, Tao te Ching)
Who am I?
That is the question of the ages, isn’t it?
Yet not only do we rarely stop long enough to look for an answer to this question, but even when we do, the answer can change over the course of our lives as we learn, adapt, and grow.
I have never been very introspective, yet the older I get and the more I read from respected mental health professionals and self-help experts, the more I am convinced that understanding ourselves—our hopes and fears, our likes and dislikes, our strengths and weakness—the more we are able to identify and focus on the most meaningful and fulfilling activities and goals. One reason I included Connection with Self among the four essential life connections for this blog is because it’s my own weakest connection area, and I wanted to get to know myself better.
Intentionally spending time on myself often feels selfish. I addressed this challenge in an earlier blog post, but I confess I still find it hard to follow my own advice and make it a priority. I experience surprising internal resistance when I start asking myself questions such as:
- What really makes me happy?
- What really gets on my nerves?
- What really makes me sad?
- What am I really good at?/What are my strengths?
- What am I really bad at?/What are my weaknesses?
We may not be who we think we are.
A 2010 article in AARP The Magazine by journalist Jane Pauley was a call to self-discovery entitled “Meet a New You: A change in perspective reveals hidden strengths.” Pauley suggests we rarely see ourselves clearly, and almost always we see ourselves differently from the way others see us. Writing to an over 50 audience (and that would be me), she addresses the common desire among baby boomers to reinvent themselves as they shift gears from employment to retirement or from parenting to empty-nesting. “Many experts on reinvention agree that before you reinvent yourself, you need to be ‘reintroduced’ to yourself,” she concludes.
Pauley thought she already knew herself, but encouraged by her sister, she took the online Strengths Finder test (a code to take the test is available if you buy Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath). She got her results: “a list of five very strengthy-sounding words” that didn’t seem to describe herself at all. Her husband and sister, however, thought the results were right on target. Pauley had to consider tossing out some old self-images that were no longer accurate. She found this uncomfortable at first, but ultimately empowering.
Follow your own advice, Elizabeth!
I don’t want to be one of those “Do as I say, not as I do” types, so I’ll take a stab at these answers right here, in front of God and everyone.
Q: What really makes you happy?
A: I’m happiest when I’m connecting with someone in a meaningful way, in person or online or by personal note. When I can introduce two professionals who can help each other, or if I find a resource I know someone needs, that totally gets me pumped. I am very, very happy when I’m with my husband and my children and their wonderful spouses. I am happiest when my spiritual and physical lives are in balance, but I find it challenging to maintain that balance.
Q: What really gets on your nerves?
A: It’s hard for me to sympathize with someone who professes to want help but who is unwilling to help themselves. I also am put off by someone who is not direct and transparent. I can’t stand having to guess at someone’s hidden agenda.
Q: What really makes you sad?
A: I am very sad when someone I love is hurting. I’m also sad when I have inadvertently or thoughtlessly hurt someone by careless words or actions. I’ve learned the hard way if I don’t get enough sleep, I can feel unhappy and emotionally labile, even if there’s no other reason to feel that way.
Q: What are you really good at?/What are your strengths?
A: I’m good at expressing myself, especially in a letter. I’m good at listening to a variety of opinions and points of view and synthesizing what I’ve heard into a bottom-line appreciation for the issue at hand. This ability makes me a good board member. Since I am truly interested in people, I’m good at connecting with strangers and finding things we have in common. I like to think I have a good balance of heart and head.
Q: What are you really bad at?/What are your weaknesses?
A: I am terrible at delegating. This makes me a bad chairman or president of a group. I’m terrible at focusing. With so many interests, I am easily distracted and therefore not as productive as I could be otherwise. Worse, this keeps me from spending enough time on those things I am good at. I find it hard to say NO, even when I should. I struggle with overeating and hate my seeming inability to maintain a healthy weight.
It’s harder than it looks.
I don’t like confronting myself like this, but it’s important to ponder these questions. The answers can be guiding stars to the actions that will mostly likely make us feel energized and fulfilled and will create balance in our lives. Already I feel a little clearer about how I might cut through some of the clutter of my life and move towards more focus and simplicity.
Now it’s your turn.
Get out a piece of paper right now and jot down the answers to these questions. Be honest. Don’t worry about analyzing your answers, but believe that you have set in motion some powerful forces that will work to move you towards your best-lived life.