In a world increasingly run by abbreviated social media tags and 280 characters or less Tweets, it can be hard to accurately represent your whole self to the world around you. Maybe it’s easier to just show off one aspect of your identity while keeping other parts hidden. 

So how do you stay true to who you are without compromising yourself to fit in an ever-increasingly small box?

How do you know what really makes you you?

Being True to Yourself Starts with Curiosity

While none of our identities or personalities are ever set in stone, you can begin to find the “essentials” of who you are with a little curiosity and a willingness to experiment. In practical terms, it’s not always possible to find the perfect place to live or the perfect job that allows us to express our full “self.” However, we can strengthen our identity by observing what helps us to feel and be at our best and make sure to include these priorities in our day-to-day life.

Identify Your “Essentials”

To work out which aspects of your life are “essential” for you, begin by asking yourself the following:

  • What are the activities, foods, people, and places that inspire you?
  • What makes you angry?
  • What makes you happy? 
  • When do you feel restless, stressed, or trapped?
  • When do you really feel fulfilled and free?

For some, you may be inspired by nature and healthy food. Maybe you’re energized by music and surrounding yourself with happy people. If those are your “essentials,” you may struggle with being in one place for too long, not having enough social interaction, or being restricted to a diet of cheap, processed foods. 

Alternatively, if you’re inspired by solitude and find joy in intimate conversations with those you care for most, your “essentials” may involve avoiding over-stimulating situations and focusing on quality time with those you feel most comfortable with.

Make Your Essentials Part of Your Everyday Routine

In all likelihood, the more of your essentials that you incorporate into each day, the happier and more alive you will feel.  Write them down, make them a part of your regular routine, and find people to enjoy them with you. Living in harmony with your own nature and being your happiest, best self is likely to inspire those around you as well!

When Your Essentials Don’t Work Out

Every now and then, circumstances are bound to arise that throw our normal routines out of whack, and, on those days, some of our essentials simply aren’t going to happen. Perhaps an especially long workday doesn’t allow for that evening walk, or your weekly outing with friends was canceled. 

When this happens, the best way to maintain a feeling of integrity is to adjust your “essentials” to the situation. For example, instead of defining your essential as “go for a half-hour walk every day,” you could redefine it more simply as “make the most of every opportunity for movement.” That way, a 10-minute workout before bed or even some gentle stretching will help you to feel like you are still being true to yourself even though your day didn’t go exactly as planned.

Plan for Change

Taking this idea to an extreme, what if you were an athlete and had an accident that meant you could never walk again? What if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness that required extreme surgery? Or what if your identity was built around your job and the company went out of business? These are the moments that really challenge us to adapt our idea of who we really are—and more often and not, we end up discovering that there is much more to each of us than we had ever imagined.

When these kinds of events take place and shake our sense of identity to the core, it can be a wonderful opportunity to focus on digging deeper and identifying a code of ethics that can help us to shape our identity even when all else seems lost.

Choose A Code to Live By

Everyone has a life code, but unless it’s clearly articulated, you can end up defaulting to whatever is easiest or most comfortable at the time. This code can be based on religious beliefs, the values instilled in us by your parents or role models, or can be a set of values you choose for yourself. Whatever it is, your code helps to guide you in every decision you make and plays an enormous role in shaping your identity. 

Putting Yourself in the Coder’s Chair

Some people are motivated by the opinions of others and often end up doing things that make them feel compromised. Why? Because they put others in their “coder’s chair” instead of writing a code that gives their own life direction. 

The idea of living with integrity is that your words match your actions. By putting your values into words and acting on them consistently with a personal life code, you strengthen your sense of integrity which, in turn, strengthens your sense of self.

Making the Hard Choices

What do we mean by this? Let’s say that it’s Sunday afternoon, and you promised that you would help your grandmother with her grocery shopping. But, suddenly, your partner calls you and invites you to see a movie that you have been looking forward to seeing that same afternoon.

If you don’t have a code, you are likely to default to “choose the best option” and go to the movies; however, if your personal code includes a value of “keeping my promises,” then grandma gets her shopping trip, and you will have strengthened your sense of self. While your significant other might not appreciate you turning them down at the time, knowing that you follow through on your promises is more likely to build a solid foundation for your relationship over the long term than choosing the easy way out ever will.

Focus on Growth and Progress over Perfection

In an ideal world, we would always make the best choices and act on our convictions. However, mistakes happen, circumstances occur that we aren’t prepared for, and we make less-than-ideal decisions that leave us feeling guilty and compromised. Rather than beating yourself up, use these opportunities to learn something about yourself and prepare for similar situations in the future. By observing your “hits” and “misses” with a playful curiosity and pondering the chain of events that led to each choice, personal growth stops being so much of a test and turns into more of a game!

Finding Purpose in Community

In the end, our “true identity” can only express itself in the context of community. Why? Because it’s through the process of relating to others that we have the chance to demonstrate patience, love, compassion, and honesty. Other people’s reactions and responses to us reflect back the presence that we exude—whether it be timidity, happiness, confidence, or fear. It’s also through identifying with other people that we experience belonging and have the chance to work as a team. When each person adds their unique contribution and strengths, we all benefit!

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Perhaps you already have a strong code for your life and know what your essentials are, or maybe you’re more of a “happy-go-lucky” person who makes decisions based on your feelings at the time. Wherever you’re at, taking some time to observe yourself and getting to know what really matters to you can help you to focus your time, make stronger decisions, and hold your head up high. 

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”―Ralph Waldo Emerson