Question: Hey Nomi, I told myself that this was going to be the year that I really figured out who I was but I have no idea where to start. So, do you have any advice on how you get to know yourself, understand yourself and how to become confident in who you are? Also, you’re badass! – A
Locust, you may know, are a wildly destructive insect. When a swarm descends it can wipe out an entire city’s worth of crop. This is not a drill. A recent swarm in Argentina destroyed close to 5.7 square miles of sunflowers, cotton and grazing fields. But why, after hundreds of years of facing these massively destructive buggers, did humans not until fairly recently understand where they came from?
Locust, it turns out, are your friendly neighbourhood grasshopper. Just… angrier, and travelling in mass. Grasshoppers are shy, private creatures that don’t even enjoy the company of other grasshoppers. When fresh grass runs out for them to eat, they are pushed closer and closer together until they are uncomfortably on top of each other, legs rubbing together in a frenzy, at which point they swarm, and become the ravenous locusts that haunt us.
This is an elaborate, anecdotal way to arrive at this first point: Who you are is complex and ever changing. You are the friendly, sweet grasshopper, and yet, under certain conditions, you are the locust. Humans didn’t understand plagues of locusts because they couldn’t shift their perspective on a familiar backyard insect. For us to get to know ourselves we first have to be willing to let go of the things we think we know about who we are.
I often get asked how does one get to know oneself – and I understand the motive behind the question. As a young woman you feel you are constantly changing; you are. It seems that what you want from one minute to the next keeps shifting; it is. And you’d like some solid sense of self to help ground you as you start to take on the world; who wouldn’t?
You’d imagine the answer to this question would be somewhat esoteric – something along the lines of… take a long walk in the woods, clear your mind and open yourself to the power within, listen to who speaks to you in that moment of silence – THAT is who you truly are.
And honestly, I generally answer the question that way. I say something seemingly poetic about achieving our true purpose, reconnecting with our souls and writing a lot of journal entries along the way (or some such Eckhart Tolle sounding shit). But maybe that’s why I keep getting asked the question – because none of that is particularly useful and doesn’t tell you anything meaningful you can actually do.
Well, what if this is way more simple than we’ve been making it out to be? What if we can actually just write down on paper who we are? What if it’s not all that romantic? What if it’s not that complex? What if we can just ask ourselves a handful of questions to begin to understand who we are?
I’ve got time. Let’s try it.
1. How do you feel about your childhood? This is something most people take years to unpack in therapy – but I’ll save you the thousands of dollars and you can thank me later. Pretty much all our inner workings are taken from unhealed aspects of our childhood. Don’t waste years trying to piece this one together. Understand the ways in which your upbringing, home life and relationship to your parents and siblings affects who you are today and how you relate to the world.
2. How do you express and respond to love? Everyone interprets love a different way and expresses love a different way. Read The Five Love Languages for some thought starters. If love is an unfamiliar or uncomfortable sensation for you, go back to question one and start again.
3. What is your biggest fear? I think fears can be more telling than desires because they are raw and automatic. It can take a while to figure out what you want and only an instant to react in fear. Identifying what you fear will be very telling. I’ll go first: I fear being unremarkable. I also fear mascots or anything where the facial expression doesn’t change. Needless to say I avoid Times Square.
4. What is the last thing that brought you authentic joy? This doesn’t have to be complicated. Maybe it’s a new bag. That’s fine. I just got Glossier brow gel and paid off a credit card that had a 26% interest rate. That felt fucking fabulous. Pure, electric joy is still flowing through me from reading “you currently have no payments due” on that damn statement.
5. How do you respond to feelings of anger, jealousy, betrayal and insecurity? I recently read an old journal entry from middle school in which I rip into one of my friends for starting a relationship with a guy one of our sort-of other girlfriends had been dating. I tore this girl to shreds. Reading it at twenty-six it’s embarrassingly evident that I was jealous. Everyone at some point experiences the emotions listed above; some people punch walls and some people have honest conversations about how other people are making them feel in a calm and respectful manner. Which one are you? Which do you want to be?
6. Do you feel energised by being around people or being alone? Okay, confession, I stole this one from the Myers Briggs. But! It’s a super helpful question to understand if you are extroverted or introverted by nature. Despite popular belief, by these standards, I am an introvert. I spend time alone to feel centred and energised. After spending time alone I then feel energised enough to spend time with other people. If I don’t get sufficient time alone I feel suffocated, insecure and unstable. And then I punch walls. (Just kidding)
7. How do you treat people you perceive as being in positions higher than you? How do you treat people you perceive as being in positions lower than you? And how do you distinguish between the two? I firmly believe that how you treat other people is massively indicative of the type of person you are. If you’re kind, caring and benevolent to your friends and family, but cuss at service workers and are repulsed by homeless people, then you are a certain type of person. Be honest with yourself here. We all want to think we’re compassionate, but how that compassion is spread amongst different groups of people is noteworthy.
8. When was the last time you cried? Tears don’t lie. Cheesy romance movies count.
9. What would you risk going to jail for? Or rather, what do you care about so passionately that you would put your own best interest second? Maybe it’s a social cause, maybe it’s the health and well being of your family. What moves you?
10. How do you spend your time? The undeniable indicator of who we are is how we spend our time. This isn’t to say that what you do for work defines you – but authenticity lies in action. There are 24 hours in a day, how do you spend yours? What do you watch, listen to or read? Who do you talk to and hang out with? If you believe yourself to be a nutritious person, but haven’t eaten anything that doesn’t come from a vending machine in weeks then you may be diluting yourself. Be honest with yourself.
Obviously answering these questions won’t paint the total picture of you, because you are a constantly changing and growing organism. And maybe on some days you’d answer those questions one way and on another day completely different. The purpose is to start thinking about the things that make you fundamentally who you are – the things that no one can take away. The confidence piece needs only a few closing lines here.
When you begin to learn yourself from the inside out – when you go into all the mess and joy and mystery that is your emotional world – you start to grow an incredible amount of respect for yourself; for the beautifully complex, and often contradictory, arrangement of cells and synapses that is you. That respect grows into unshakeable confidence the more you nurture it.
Now go and nourish your soul in the eternal waters of the universe, young grasshopper 😉 I couldn’t help myself.