“What am I about?” The answer to this most perplexing question

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

If someone were to ask you what you’re all about, what would you say?

Would you list your profession, your spiritual and religious beliefs, your nationality, culture or your top interests and passions?

Or would you just shrug.

Here’s a look at this fascinating question and how much it can tell us about who we really are at our core.

1) What are the external identity labels society has put on you?

Before answering this question for real, let’s look at the superficial, external answers.

What are the external identity labels that society has put on you?

Let’s start with me:

White, 37, journalist, Canadian living abroad, middle income, technologically proficient but critical of modern society.

What about you?

Maybe you’re a 45-year-old farmer from the Czech Republic, socialist, lower income with a love of painting and the poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke.

Maybe you’re a 67-year-old retired schoolteacher from Akron, Ohio who is a devout evangelical Christian focused on her grandchildren.

Maybe you’re a 24-year-old IT student from N’Djamena, Chad who loves football and is working hard to study and practice your Islamic faith.

These are the external identity indicators that society has put on you.

Before you can see past them to a deeper level, it’s important to be clear on them and the baggage and privileges that come along with them.

Let’s keep going…

2) What decisions have you made and which ones are you making now?

There is so much in life that’s out of our control. Nobody would dispute that.

The circumstances of our upbring, our culture and the formative influences in our life are out of our control.

The tragic and joyous events which happen to us are not our choice.

If you want to make a scientific case of being a victim, there are plenty of ways to do it and plenty of people who will take advantage of that pungent loser energy.

But if you choose to stop drinking the cheap wine of tragedy and look at what you do control, there is really one thing:

Your decisions.

So if you really want to answer: what am I about? Take a look at the decisions you’ve made and the ones you will be making.

“Everyday we are faced with choices from eating a piece of cake or not, to volunteering to take on a difficult assignment at the office, that will take their place in a long line of similar decisions,” writes Kelly Cole.

“When we look back at these decisions in 10, 20, or 30 years, they will provide us with real insight into who we are and what we stand for as people.”

That’s exactly right.

There may be many factors that define who you are and who you could be, some out of your control.

But what is in your control? What you decide right now and what you decide tomorrow.

3) What experiences have defined your life so far?

Finding out who you really are is a bit like being a spiritual and psychological archeologist.

You are the Indiana Jones of your own life, digging back to find the experiences and themes that run throughout your life.

What has made you who you are?

What problems have consistently tripped you up?

What successes and triumphs have defined your journey so far?

Like I discussed last point, many experiences aren’t your choice and come at you. But how you respond to them is still often your choice.

In his outstanding 1997 book the Soul’s Code, the late and great psychologist Dr. James Hillman takes a look at many of these concepts.

As he writes:

“You find your genius by looking in the mirror of your life… A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also possess you completely.

“Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim. The daimon does not go away.”

4) What would you die for – and what do you live for?

If you want to know who you really are, think about who – and what – you would die for.

It’s an uncomfortable question, but it can reveal a hell of a lot about who you really are.

On a related note – what are the main people and values you are currently getting up for each morning?

As war correspondent Sebastien Junger explores in his excellent 2016 book Tribe, answering the question about what you would die for is a question that many modern people don’t have to ask themselves.

Thanks to the improvements of modern technology, law enforcement and medicine, they’ll never be pushed to that limit.

Thank God, but also…

Let’s be honest that we’ve lost something.

We’ve lost a certain sincerity about what we truly stand for when every other illusion is stripped away.

We’re not getting called out as much about putting our money where our mouth is.

And the result is a much weaker and faker society.

5) What would happen if you were 100% honest about how you feel?

I want you to do a mental and emotional exercise with me.

Similar techniques have been tried in gestalt therapy, primal scream therapy and other methods.

The basic idea here is to be 100% honest about how you feel and let it out.

I’ll start:

I feel lonely, left behind, confused as hell! I also feel full of conflicting emotions like joy, sadness and determination.

I don’t know where it all leads, but I know it’s part of my identity as it currently exists.

Of course, we can’t go around always expressing exactly how we feel and telling other people about it. But we can make a promise to be honest with ourselves.

And with others as much as possible. This will lead us a lot closer to answering the perplexing question “what am I about?”

As renowned blogger Jon Katz puts it:

“I like to say you get the good Katz and the bad Katz, but you always get the real one. That is my goal and my policy.

I promised to be open and share my life authentically, and I believe I have mostly lived up to that.”

6) What gets you to open up and be vulnerable?

Masks aren’t just physical things that most of us are expected to wear in public these days. They’re also metaphorical things we wear.

As I explained in point one, the external identity labels that many of us are born with are things that many of us cling to:

They give us an easy us vs. them narrative…

The saved vs. the damned…

The enlightened vs. the ignorant…

The good vs the bad…

I want to encourage you to think about it in a totally different way.

Instead of thinking about the different decorations and colors you can put on your mask, think about taking off your mask altogether!

What do you truly feel? What are you afraid of? What gives you the most hope? What makes you open up and let your guard down…

I want to go to that place now…

Part of deciding what am I about is figuring out “what it means to be susceptible, or vulnerable – whether that’s to an audience, the music industry, a guru, a romantic partner or a podcast host.”

7) What religion or spiritual path speaks to you?

Trying to find out which religion or spiritual path is true is no easy task.

Trust me, I’m still on that road…

When you’re trying to find out which religion or spiritual path is right, you can get easily confused and led astray by your own ego.

But the good news is that spirituality and religion isn’t something you have to justify to others.

Whether you’re a Wiccan, an atheist, a Hindu or a Jehovah’s Witness, my opinion of you is absolutely irrelevant.

I may love you, hate you or think you’re silly. But it doesn’t matter.

Religion is about what’s ultimately true. It’s about what happens when you die.

It’s about what motivates each walking step you take in this earthly life.

Who gives a shit what me or anyone else thinks of your religion?

It’s what you have determined is true and real to the best of your ability.

You deserve respect for that and the freedom to explore this truth by your own methods.

Finding out who you are is about being free to believe what you truly believe is on the mark.

What happens next in your culture or society is not the key thing. It’s what you truly are drawn to.

I know people from strict Christian cultures who have converted to Islam and been widely hated for it.

I know atheists who have become devout Christians and been mocked by all their former friends.

Who cares! Do you!

8) Have you grasped your own personal power?

Many of us grow up in societies that tell us we need to be less of who we are in order to be accepted.

We are cut down and limited in so many ways that we end up like smiling cyborgs, nodding and accepting whatever the latest edict is from the Ministry of Truth.

But if you trim yourself to fit the world, there’ll be nothing left.

That’s why discovering your own true power is so vital to your own survival and the future prosperity of society.

So how can you overcome this insecurity that’s been nagging you?

The most effective way is to tap into your personal power.

You see, we all have an incredible amount of power and potential within us, but most of us never tap into it. We become bogged down in self-doubt and limiting beliefs. We stop doing what brings us true happiness.

I learned this from the shaman Rudá Iandê. He’s helped thousands of people align work, family, spirituality, and love so they can unlock the door to their personal power.

He has a unique approach that combines traditional ancient shamanic techniques with a modern-day twist. It’s an approach that uses nothing but your own inner strength – no gimmicks or fake claims of empowerment.

Because true empowerment needs to come from within.

In his excellent free video, Rudá explains how you can create the life you’ve always dreamed of and increase attraction in your partners, and it’s easier than you might think.

So if you’re tired of living in frustration, dreaming but never achieving, and of living in self-doubt, you need to check out his life-changing advice.

Click here to watch the free video.

9) Where do you fit into the grand tapestry of life?

One of the best ways to figure out what you’re about is to compare and contrast it with what others expect of you.

Depending on your role and where you fit in these various societies of ours, there may be many expectations put on you…

Who are you to your family?

Who are you to your friends?

Who are you to your country?

Who are you to a stranger on the street?

These may be related to the kind of superficial labels we are trying to move past. But they are also important ways to see yourself reflected in the kaleidoscope of life.

What are you to those around you and how does this speak to you?

Are you generally understood or are you being miscast in the play of life?

This will bring you a lot closer to finding what you really want to do in life and what you want to be known for.

10) Answering some questions that cut straight to the chase

Think of discovering what you’re really about as the ultimate survey.

This isn’t necessarily an intellectual exercise, either.

Who you are might not be a word or a label of any kind. It might be a feeling. It might be the tears that come to your eyes when you see a sunrise.

It might be the feeling you get of satisfaction after helping out an elderly relative.

Your identity is all about finding what resonates with you and what drives you.

Many people might say something like “being happy.”

Well, sure: but what does being happy mean to you exactly?

As Jacquelynne Eccles says:

“Who am I? What am I about? What is my place in my social group? What is important to me? What do I value?

“What do I want to do with my life? These are all questions related to what psychologists call identity.”

11) How do you relate to relationships?

Another key element of answering “what am I about” is to look at how you fare in relationships.

I’m not talking about how hot you are…

Or how charming.

I’m talking about the inner process that takes place within you when you’re in a relationship or out of a relationship.

The truth is, most of us overlook an incredibly important element in our lives:

The relationship we have with ourselves.

I learnt about this from the shaman Rudá Iandê. In his genuine, free video on cultivating healthy relationships, he gives you the tools to plant yourself at the center of your world.

He covers some of the major mistakes most of us make in our relationships, such as codependency habits and unhealthy expectations. Mistakes most of us make without even realizing it.

So why am I recommending Rudá’s life-changing advice?

Well, he uses techniques derived from ancient shamanic teachings, but he puts his own modern-day twist on them. He may be a shaman, but his experiences in love weren’t much different to yours and mine.

Until he found a way to overcome these common issues. And that’s what he wants to share with you.

So if you’re ready to make that change today and cultivate healthy, loving relationships, relationships you know you deserve, check out his simple, genuine advice.

Click here to watch the free video.

12) What’s your professional calling

We live in a society that’s obsessed with materialism and work. All that matters is what you do to earn that powerful and binding thing called “money.”

It’s easy to think that this means that your job is just something you do because you have to.

Sadly, for many people it is.

The consequences of industrial society have been significant.

But the point here is that if we think of career in a new way we can empower ourselves and avoid lots of the victimization and alienation that occurs from labor.

The new way to think about this is how your career and job can align with who you are.

Maybe you’re a road paver or work for a government tax agency (as David Foster Wallace memorably describes).

But even these kind of jobs can connect up to who you really are…

By keeping that core, authentic part of yourself that remains true.

For example, sometimes a job really is a false label that’s stuck onto you in an industrial society to make you a functioning gear in the machine.

But if you’re doing it to care for the family and friends who are dear to you, it’s never going to be wholly fake.

It still has the potential to be an authentic piece of who you are.

13) Where do we go from here?

As you come to know more in terms of what you’re about, something interesting happens.

You’ll begin to also notice more about those around you and how they’re struggling and succeeding in finding their own identity as well.

The truth is that all of us are on a journey with no defined end.

We could die tomorrow or in a hundred years.

But we’re all searching for something.

And even if it’s just material comfort and safety, there’s some core instincts and dreams inside us which speak to us.

There’s that one memory from childhood or that one trauma which we will always remember, or which we never fully recovered from.

We’re all works in progress, but we’re not waiting to be strung up on a wall at the Louvre, we’re all out here trying to live our lives.

And it’s in the living of our lives that we come to experience so much more about who we really are.

About what moves us and shakes us…

About what inspires us and disgusts us…

About what bores us and fascinates us…

And about what we want to commit to and what we want to walk away from.

It’s really an amazing journey, and it’s worth its weight in gold.

Keeping the mystery alive

Sometimes there is no “answer” to who you are. You find out who you are as you go.

Sometimes you just need to learn to “laugh in the face of chaos.”

The Austrian philosopher and founder of anthroposophical education Rudolf Steiner famously taught that our feet lead us to our destiny and our true identity.

The fact of the matter is that you can sit for years thinking about who you are and what you’re about…

I spent years doing just that.

I asked friends, I asked myself, I read articles, I read books and watched films.

I listened to music and joined political parties and religions and changed my hairstyles and wore strange clothes and adopted a lot of perspectives.

But in the end what I’ve found out is that who you are isn’t defined by what’s in your head.

It’s defined by what you do.

Nothing ever started becoming clear in any way until I started taking action.

Empowering myself and making decisions that launched me into new situations, friendships and locales.

That’s why if you were to ask me right now:

“What am I about?”

I would say that I’m right in the middle of still living and discovering it.

Join me.

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

Reuniting with your first love after decades: 10 tips

The real meaning of dreaming about time travel: 20 interpretations