“Who are you?” is a question that often gets asked—and one that can be surprisingly difficult to answer. But don’t worry if you’re not sure of who you are.
The fact is, it’s hard to know what makes up your identity because there are so many different factors at play. Think about your parents’ values. How did they raise you? What kind of household did you grow up in? What did your parents teach you about yourself and the world around you? Were you taught to value being smart or being pretty? Were you told to always strive for more, or are some things not worth aspiring for?
Researchers have found that challenges in social relationships can significantly affect identity development. For example, people who grew up in abusive environments may struggle to trust others and feel like they’re not worthy of love and support. But simply interacting with other people—making friends—is a great way to develop and feel more secure about your identity.
Understanding The Structure of Thy ‘Self’
In the 1980s and 1990s, psychologists like Erik Erikson theorized about identity structure from the individual’s perspective. According to their theories, personality develops in a series of stages and throughout the lifespan.
Today, evolutionary psychologists are taking that thinking a step further. They believe that personality is an evolved adaptation—that our personalities result from natural selection. It is because specific personality characteristics were more adaptive for survival and reproduction for our ancestors, and so those traits have been passed down through generations.
But what if personality evolved differently? What if it was not as fixed as it seems? You can look at theorists like Oliver Sacks (the well-known British neurologist), who claim that people story themselves into being—”we are our stories.”
One example of this is the case of Phineas Gage, who underwent a dramatic transformation after sustaining brain damage in an accident. He changed from being a polite, responsible man to someone impulsive and rude. What changed?
Malcolm Macmillan explains: “Though his cognitive functions were largely intact…his whole inner life seemed to have changed…he had lost his moral sense and a sense of social propriety.”
It’s almost as if Phineas Gage got a new personality overnight! But with some digging, Macmillan found that this wasn’t exactly true. Gage had always had a different character from other people—he was wild, passionate, and willing to do whatever it took to get ahead. Gage’s accident just revealed the true nature of his identity.
And that’s not the only case—several examples of neurological changes causing significant personality shifts in people living with various disabilities and conditions.
So perhaps our identity isn’t as fixed or hardwired as we think!
What Causes The Changes in Your Identity?
Several factors can affect who you are as a person. These include:
One of the biggest influences on your character is your genetic makeup. Your DNA can determine everything from the color of your eyes to the shape of your nose. And even many aspects of personality that fall under the umbrella of character. (For example, people with parents who have depression tend to also suffer from depression). That’s not to say that everyone with a parent suffering from depression will also have depression. It only means that people have higher odds of being depressed if at least one parent suffers from depression.
However, it’s not all about genetics: you have innate abilities that affect who you are. Regardless of the capabilities, you can refine them over time through experience or change and modify them through conscious effort. You can even learn new abilities if you put in enough time and effort!
So yes: who you are is partly due to your genes. However, you can change some aspects of yourself over time by developing new skills and learning new things about yourself and your world.
Environment and Culture
How much does the environment in which you grow up affect who you become? It’s a question many of us have wondered about at some point. It’s easy to see how different environments might shape our personalities and even our very nature in various ways.
For example, think about the differences between a child born in a wealthy family and one born into poverty. When they reach their teen years, these two kids will have very different personalities. The child born into wealth will likely be passive and picky about the opportunities that come their way, while the child born into poverty will be more aggressive and jump at any chance.
You can apply the same line of thinking to how men and women are raised today compared to the past. In the past, women were taught to be submissive to men. Today, society teaches women to stand up for themselves -and this reflects in many aspects of modern life, such as education and career opportunities.
There are so many ways the environment and culture shape you. Next time you’re trying to figure out what kind of person you are (or want to be), start with where you’ve been instead of where you’re going.
The idea that who you are as a person is a process that evolves as you experience life is not new. But it is one of the most powerful lenses to view your personal development. What happens when you see yourself as an evolving creature with layers built up over time?
You discover that you can look back at your past experiences and learn from them—to say “ah-ha!” and understand how they have influenced who you are today.
In this way, you can begin to control who you are and how others see you by consciously choosing what information from your experiences will shape you into who you want to be tomorrow.
Experiences of Pain
It’s difficult to hear sometimes, but it’s true: pain is growth.
The person you are today is the sum of all your experiences, including your experiences of pain. Whether it’s a death or a break-up or something else entirely, how you react and move forward from such an event can significantly impact who you are as a person than the event itself. For example, if someone had their heartbroken and decides to become more social as a result—traveling more, going out with friends more often—that decision to become less isolated will change them for the better.
Perhaps one of the most profound examples of this kind of personal change is when someone loses a loved one close to them. The feeling that you get after losing someone can be overwhelming. Humans are social creatures; your life is entangled with others. When you lose those connections, a part of yourself disappears, too.
It is perfectly natural to feel pain and grief after an event like this—whether it’s a death, break-up, or something else entirely. But what matters is what you do next. Do you avoid others? Do you sink into depression? Do you put yourself out there and try to be more social than before? These actions shape who you are much more than any other event ever could.
Identifying Your Values and Listing Them
Now that you have this information, it’s time to think about what matters to you. Make a list of 8 things that you value most. It should be a mixture of tangible and intangible things, such as family, friends, stability, peace, leadership, etc. If honesty is fundamental to you, write down “honesty” and consider how this affects your everyday life.
Next, ask yourself how prioritizing these values can lead to better results in life. Take honesty as an example: someone who places high importance on honesty is more likely to succeed in their career than someone who doesn’t emphasize it.
Prioritize Your Top Three Values
Prioritize your top three values by listing them from most important to least important. Doing this will help you determine how well you meet these values at work and in life.
Knowing which one matters most will allow for better decision-making. You can then make those decisions based on what matters more rather than just feeling torn between two things.
For example, if your number one value is family, but you spend all day at work and never get to see your kids or spend time with your spouse, you might want to try and make some changes so that your job allows for more family time.
You might also need to make sure that you spend quality time with your loved ones every day instead of watching TV or scrolling through Facebook for hours when you get home from work.
Why It Is Essential to Get Clarity on the Top 3 Values
Knowing your values is important because they are the guiding principles you have as a human being. They guide your decision-making process and help you make decisions that align with who you are as a person.
Here are some examples of how knowing your top 3 personal core values can help:
Attracting Similar People with Similar Mindsets into Your Life
You’ve often heard people say, ‘Birds of the same feather flock together,’ which means you attract what you are. Hence, having like-minded people around you can help affirm and challenge your views. They can also keep you accountable for your values and help correct any shortcomings in certain areas. A great example is someone who has strong family ties can be a great mentor for someone that wants to work on their relationship skills and vice versa.
Avoid Roles/Situations Which Do Not Bring You Peace and Joy
There are several different roles and situations in your life that you will experience at one time or another. It is essential to be aware of how they affect you. You may feel frustrated with the people or things around you.
You may feel stressed about the things that are happening in your life. Or, you may have a sense of dread when thinking about specific events. Whatever is causing you stress, it is crucial to take action to change the situation so that it does not cause more stress for you in the future.
The first step toward changing your life for the better is recognizing when a particular situation is causing you stress and taking action to change it so that it does not cause further stress.
Attract the Right Job
Knowing yourself better at a deeper level will allow you to attract the right job.
It will be easier to determine the right companies or organizations that align with those values when you are clear on what kind of work you want to do. You can then focus on applying for jobs at companies that match your values, making it more likely to end up in a role where you feel fulfilled.
Live in the Right Area Aligned to the Environment
If one of your top values is family, make sure your neighborhood supports that. If nature is important to you, then live somewhere that allows easy access to the outdoors.
If relishing in all things culture is something that brings you joy, find a place that gives ample opportunity for exploring museums and art galleries.
Suppose you prefer being in urban areas, where there’s always something happening and new people to meet. In that case, community and diversity might be more important than living near a forest or beach.
Live With Intention
If you are not living with intention, you are on autopilot and going through the motions in life. Living with purpose means making decisions based on what matters most to you. It means being intentional about the decisions you make.
If your top 3 values include family, community, and success, your career must align with them. A job where you can have time to spend with family and friends, contribute to your community, and be successful in your field is ideal for someone who values family, community, and success.
Brings You More Peace and Joy
Knowing what matters most to you helps you live a more authentic and fulfilling life. Knowing your values can also help you understand what is not essential to you.
By discovering and prioritizing your top 3 personal core values, you can determine if your decisions and actions in your life align authentically with who you are as a person. It will be easier for you to eliminate things from your life that do not align with your values, thus making room for more happiness and fulfillment!
Do Not Confuse Values With Goals
One of the biggest reasons people mistake goals for values is that, at first glance, they seem to be so interchangeable. After all, people set goals based on what they value in life. However, it’s much more complex than that; while plans can change based on various factors in your life, your values remain constant.
For example, you might have goals like “I want to get into law school by the time I’m 30” or “I want to be a millionaire by 40.” But those are not indicative of your values—they are things you want to accomplish in your life due to those values, as mentioned earlier.
The question of who you are is not just a philosophical one. It’s not just a fun exercise or an engaging, thought-provoking puzzle. As with most questions in life, the answer to “who am I?” has severe implications on how you live, your relationships, and your success in life.
Some days you’ll feel confident about your answer, and on others, you won’t. But no matter how you’re feeling, remember that the value in knowing who you are comes from the process—not from any final, definitive answer.
By knowing who you are—and by continuing to work on the process of self-discovery—you can use your strengths and overcome your weaknesses, reach your optimal self, and live a fulfilling life. If knowing who you are sounds like something you want to achieve, join our XO team and get step-by-step direction on understanding yourself and how you can lead an extraordinary life.