The Tragedy of Not Knowing Who You Are

23 Jan, 2018

Do you struggle with not knowing who you are? Then it’s time to find out, but before you start the journey of finding yourself, let me ask you an important question: Who are you?

You’ve heard this question before, and you can probably answer it immediately, but that’s not the answer I’m looking for. Answers like: I am a mechanic, a businessman, a motor freak, a go-getter, a nobody, a king, won’t cut it. While these answers form a part of your identity, they’re not who you are. They’re what you are. This is just the superficial stuff, the surface, the stuff that can change tomorrow. It doesn’t matter.

When I ask who you are, I’m asking: Who are you really, what is important to you, and what do you really want out of life? What needs to happen for you to lay on your deathbed and look back on your life with a big smile on your face? What is the one thing that is your mission in this lifetime? Chances are you have no clue.

Do you still remember?

Isn’t it strange that you don’t really know the person you spend every second of your life with? You know everything about everybody, but have no clue who you are yourself. You spend hours in front of the television, watching the latest gossips. And you listen to the news day in and out. And you talk about other people, know what makes them tick, but are entirely unaware of yourself. You should spend that time, that now goes to waste on things that don’t matter for you, finding yourself.

What were your childhood dreams, what did you love to do, do you still remember?

Going through life without knowing who you are is the biggest tragedy possible. When this happens, you are just an idea that doesn’t see the light of day, a delicacy that’s forgotten and is doomed to rot on the shelf, a gift returned to sender.

It might seem you are doing great. After all, you have a cool job and a steady paycheck, you are busy and going places, but is this really you? Are you executing the real you, or are you heading nowhere fast?

Five common regrets when you stop finding yourself

We don’t care for what we have but miss it when it’s gone. In most cases, such as relationships and material things, we can reverse the process or do some damage control, but with life, the end is the end. Death is still far away, so no need to worry about it now, right? Sure, no need to worry.

But, this isn’t about worrying. This is about learning from the mistakes others made, so we don’t have to make them.

Bronnie Ware worked as a palliative caregiver for several years and guided patients in the last weeks of their lives. While doing this, she asked her patients what their biggest regrets were. Her research shows common themes amongst almost all the people she interviewed. Apparently, when death is upon us, not knowing who you are makes place for exactly knowing who you really are, and what you wanted to do differently. The five most common regrets are:

1. I wish I dared to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I dared to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Regrets in a nutshell

These are some considerable regrets to have, and it’s a heartbreaking thing when you realize not knowing who you are is such a universal theme. What this basically boils down to is that the majority of people never find out who they really are. Even if they did, they never dared to express themselves, resulting in a suppressed life.

Apart from never being their authentic selves, they also robbed themselves of the opportunity of being happy and sharing more time with their loved ones. Having regrets about not making a trip around the world or not buying your dream house are acceptable, but these five regrets are about as tragic as it can get.

If you summarize this, it sounds something like this: “I’ve spent my life being someone I never wanted to be because I was not courageous enough to find out who I really am and claim my place as an authentic person. Therefore I’ve spent a life away from my family and friends to give everything I have for a job I didn’t really like, and this resulted in me not being happy.”

Someone hold my coffee while I lie on the floor in the fetal position and cry my eyeballs out for humanity.

Where you got lost finding yourself

When I was still in school, I did the bare minimum to make it to the next year. I walked a thin line between staying in school and getting kicked out throughout my entire school career. I broke every rule in the book just to keep things interesting. Was I a bad kid? I don’t think so. I like to believe I was a kid with spirit that refused to let school break it. 

The school system has gotten a bad rep over the last years, and that’s probably for the best. It’s not a complete waste of time, but the system is highly outdated. It’s definitely not the place if you want to start your journey of finding yourself when not knowing who you are. It’s still a system based on the industrial revolution — a system designed to meet the needs of the market instead of the wants of the children.

Back when the demand for factory workers was high, children were poured into molds; they would fit perfectly in the system. Times were harder back then, and options were limited. Being molded into a cog wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to you. You had job security, and the alternative was a life on the streets. 

Times are different

But now, times are different. The possibilities are endless, and many jobs that demand a school system based on the industrial revolution are taken over by robots and AI. Also, the younger generations are much more enlightened when it comes to creating a meaningful life. Take the millennials for instance, they rather get a job where they can contribute to a better world and earn less money, vs. a job that just makes a ton of money. 

Is it normal to not know who you are? Normal isn’t the right word, but it has become the standard for the majority of people, but it’s not their fault.

We have a broken school system that creates broken people. Young children full of life, spontaneity, and curiosity, start with school, and all get the exact same program. Let’s call this program the tree. The goal of the school program is to make sure all children climb up the same tree. The old, crooked tree their parents, and everybody else had to climb in as well. Great news if you are a monkey, but what if you are not a monkey? And what if you are a fish?

What if you’re a fish and don’t know?

What if no one tells you that you’re a fish? And what if you know you are a fish, but everyone acts like you are a monkey? Sooner or later, you’ll think you are a monkey. But, no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to climb the tree, and you give up on finding yourself. Even if you are a cat, you’ll be able to climb the tree, but never as good as the monkeys. The fish will spend the rest of his life trying to climb the tree and will feel like an idiot. He will go through life, and when it’s time to leave this life, he will list the five regrets listed above.

A fish with dyslexia spends his entire childhood thinking he’s stupid, but he’s not stupid, he’s just meant to be an artist. A hyperactive Jack Russell dog is diagnosed with ADHD and gets put on meds, but in reality, he is intended to be one of the best breakdancers in the world.

What happens when you put the same fish in the water? You get a happy fucking fish, swimming around and sharing his talents and gifts with the rest of his fish buddies, leaving the water a bit better than when he came into it.

Stolen dreams

Fish spent their lives learning things that don’t really interest them just to climb the tree. Every time they try to climb the tree, they slowly disconnect from who they really are. Maybe you are a fish programmed to climb trees. And here you are finding yourself. 

We slowly rob these children of their dreams and steal their spontaneity, creativity, and life juice one useless piece of information at the time. We force them to learn stuff that doesn’t resonate with them and teach them things that don’t connect with them.

The fish are bored and become annoying and show behavior that doesn’t fit the mold they are supposed to fit in. They don’ fit in because they stand out. They stand out from the status quo of the system. In another setting, they are leaders, but in the school system, they are dysfunctional and not capable of anything.

We diagnose millions of children with conditions such as ADHD and other medical diagnoses. But, maybe they don’t have a condition. Maybe they’re just utterly bored and rebel at us for stealing their dreams. Before we even have a chance to really get to know ourselves, to really pursue our dreams, we get robbed, our dreams get crushed. They are crushed by broken gatekeepers who tell us things like: “Be realistic, you can never pay the bills as a dancer”.

But our dreams don’t go away. They stay in the backpack of life. Maybe broken, but still there. It might take some glue and creativity to put the pieces back together, but they’re there. And one day you’ll need them when you go out in the world finding yourself.

The mediocre man

Our schools and society are focused on making everyone the same; there’s no room for finding yourself. But we are not the same, each one of us is highly unique. Throughout school, we are taught to develop the skills we aren’t really good in and neglect what we are naturally gifted at. This might have worked for centuries, but now it’s a recipe for failure. There is no place for the mediocre man anymore. The mediocre man is replaced by third world countries who can do a better job for a fraction of the price, and eventually, robots will take over the mediocre man completely.

The internet holds the shovel that buries the mediocre man. Back in the good old days, your options were limited, and your only options were the people around you, but not anymore. The internet shows the best of the best within a fraction of a second, no matter where they are.

Hulk smash

Your value nowadays lies entirely in your authenticity and superpowers. We live in a world where superhumans thrive, and where the mediocre man completely fades away. Superheroes dominate Hollywood blockbusters, and we all have our favorites. But, if these superheroes would go through the system, they wouldn’t be superheroes.

Indiana Jones would be told not to be so curious, to sit down and pay attention. The teacher would take away James Bond’s silly toys and tell him to grow up. The Hulk would be put on medications and told to sit quietly. Society would say to Bruce Banner that emotions are bad.

But we all know Indiana’s superpower is his curiosity and eye for detail. We all know that Bond’s superpower is his arsenal of toys and his ability to adapt. And we all know the Hulk’s superpower is to fuck shit up. How’s that for finding yourself?

“But, these are just stories for fun and entertainment, be real”, you might say.  True, but what about Mahatma Gandhi, what about Martin Luther King, and what about Richard Branson? Gandhi realized his superpower wasn’t being a lawyer, but inspiring people and peacefully connecting them. MLK’s superpower was raising awareness and speaking from the heart, and Branson’s superpower is doing things differently.

Free spirits

When you look at most children, you’ll notice they are spontaneous and unbiased. Keeping these valuable trades in good shape is hard work, and 99% fails. Not because we don’t like to be that way, but because society and the status quo is continually trying to break these trades down. The king of the jungle has to be tamed and turned into a sheep.

The obvious thing to say here is that kids should learn how to behave for the greater good. If everyone acts like a monkey, the world becomes a zoo. Agreed, but there’s a difference between teaching children to have respect and decency in a way that keeps there spirit alive and breaking down their entire authenticity by kneading them until they fit the mold.

High school kids play, have fun, scream and shout, do crazy shit, all to the annoyance of ‘mature’ people. These kids get looked at angrily, but luckily they hardly notice. Sometimes a bitter, broken, ‘mature’ person steps in and corrects them. Instead of being inspired by the spontaneity and authenticity these kids still have, he orders them to get back in line.

Suppression and conditioning

A grumpy, older man grabs one of the kids by the arm, says some mean shit about how they behave, and bystanders applaud him. If his action is successful, you see a part of their true being dying right on the spot. This is traumatic. The child gets wired to think it’s wrong to be playful and enjoy life.

The grumpy, old man might say something along the lines of “stop behaving like savages and keep it down”, but what he really means is “hey, we are all miserable and you have to act the same way as us, because you remind us of what life is all about and we don’t want our suppressed feelings coming up”. Society will tell you to be just like them. Not because it’s good for you, but because it’s good for them.

People don’t stop playing because they grow old; they grow old because they stop playing. Think about that for a minute.

Locked in a cage

When we are born, we are free spirits, but from the moment we are born, this free spirit slowly gets caged. The world conditions us and forms us into the people we finally become. It’s like everyday people throw tiny bits of mud on us that stick. In the beginning, our free spirit still shines through, but with every piece of mud, it gets buried deeper and deeper. Eventually, we are entirely covered in mud and feel so suppressed by the weight of it we can hardly move.

Men learn that real men don’t cry, women learn they are not equal to men, but it doesn’t work. People become pressure cookers. Maybe they’ll finish the ride of life without ever exploding, holding all that emotion and their inner child safely inside, but it’s not pretty.

It’s an epidemic

Not knowing who you are isn’t an individual tragedy; it’s an epidemic. The collateral damage is insane.

When you go through life trying to climb the tree, you’ll be miserable; you’ll settle for less, you’ll never fulfill your task here on the globe. That’s a messed up thing. But what is even more messed up is that the majority of people are trying to climb the tree they were never supposed to climb.

So, this creates a world with people in the wrong place. People who never excel, people who do a just good enough job, and people who live for the weekends and hate Monday morning. People who wear masks all day and don’t even know anymore that there is a real person under the mask. But also people who can’t even remember their childhood dreams anymore. People who gave up and are being ‘realistic’. 

The good news is that in today’s day and age, there isn’t a reason to do things you don’t want to do. With the internet, everything can be monetized, but only if you’re good enough. The middle is gone, only the best of the best rise to the top. And to be the best, you have to work from a sense of purpose to tap into a state where you can really thrive. When you are your authentic self, it’s easy to be the best. There is not a lot of competition. Being the best is about the best version of who you are, not what you are. 

When fish swim in the water

A part of the world is at a point where all is well and where the opportunity is created to think about your higher meaning in life, your purpose. But finding yourself isn’t easy. This is one of the reasons millennials are going through such a crisis. Yes, they want to work, but they want to fulfill their purpose and create meaning for the world. That’s a great concept to work with. That’s way better than just working at a job that pays well, where you pull yourself through the week.

How would your life shift if you would find your real purpose? What would happen if the fish realizes his path isn’t up the tree but in the water? Not only would the fish feel naturally at home, but he would also be in an environment where he can thrive — surrounded by other fish that empower him. Now, this fish is happy, doing things he loves and adding much more value to the world. Imagine what would happen if all people did this. Everybody would be a superhuman, doing things they would love to do and get more energy from it. You are energized and go out there and find yourself.

Ask yourself this

When you ask a fish swimming in the water who he is, he can tell you in detail. He knows what is important to him and what he wants to do on the globe. He can tell you his mission, his purpose. This fish will have some regrets on his deathbed, but it won’t be the five we saw earlier.

So, ask yourself: Am I a fish, a monkey, an elephant, or something else? Do I have any business in the tree, or should I be somewhere else? If you don’t know, it’s time to figure it out. You owe it to yourself and the world. Start finding yourself.

Image credit: