Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself. List your hobbies and interests. What do you like to do in your spare time? If money were no object, how would you spend your days? Where do you see yourself in five years? Is the glass as half empty or half full? What are you favorite things? What makes you tick? What makes you you?
These questions. *eye roll* Sure, there are the answers that look good on your college application or dating profile or résumé, but we all know they’re kind of bullshit. “I like beautiful sunsets and long walks on the beach. And volunteering!” NO DUH, THOSE THINGS ARE GREAT. But what if you really want to know the answers? Just for yourself? How does one go about finding them, with the vast array of selves you can choose to be? Finding yourself not only builds confidence—allowing you to say “I wear a lot of purple and my second language is Finnish because that is just WHO I AM!”—but it’ll help you find your peeps too.
Whatever your level of interest may be in getting to know the Real You, this guide can help. Think of it as the beginning of a fun brainstorm sesh you’ll finish on your own.
1. Find a Therapist
It’s painfully obvious to start with this, but for me it has been the #1 most instrumental tool in figuring out who I am and what I’m all about. Anyone who is curious about getting to know themselves better can look toward therapy for some answers. You’re not required to have a mental illness or crisis going on, though of course those are great reasons to talk to someone. Therapists can help with all kinds of stuff: making a big life decision, like where to go to college or coming out to your parents; solving an ongoing conflict with a family member or friend; figuring out how to not be a person who is late for everything. But how do you choose whom you’re going to talk to?
The first/easiest way is to ask a friend who goes to therapy if they can get you a recommendation from their therapist. Most counselors are pretty actively involved in professional networks with other therapists. They go to, like, conferences and shit. And a lot of them love finding business for one another. That is how I found Sheila, who helped me become a happier, more assertive and fulfilled human being.
I should say that if you’re a minor speaking to a counselor or therapist, privacy can be an issue. If you’re being abused, they have an obligation to alert authorities; if you’re committing crimes or putting yourself in danger, they have some wiggle room as far as how much to disclose to your parent or guardian. Every therapist is different, so if you’re concerned about privacy, have a talk with them early on about their policies on that sort of stuff. Because they’re guided by ethics as well as the law, they’ll have to let you know up front and honestly how much of what you say might leave the room.
If you don’t have anyone to ask for a recommendation, check out Psychology Today‘s Therapist Finder. You can search in your area and read bios from lots of folks.
A word about the cost of therapy: If you can have a chat with your parents about seeing a therapist, they can let you know if your insurance will cover it or if you’ll have to find a way to pay out of pocket. If you’re in the latter situation, plenty of therapists offer what’s called “sliding scale,” meaning you tell them what you can afford and they try to work within your budget. This might mean going less often, or doing shorter sessions. Jamia has even more tips on how to afford therapy.
If your parents are on the fence about helping you pay for therapy, try saying, “What if I needed braces? Would we, as a family, make my orthodontic health a priority? Then why not my mental health? I love you guys.” (Always end it with “I love you guys!”)
There’s also a whole huge world of free or close-to-free support groups out there, if you don’t mind a few other people in the room. One of the greatest things about group therapy is that you’ll meet like-minded individuals, and you might even make some new friends! Psychology Today and Mental Health America have plenty of links to affordable or free group therapy.
Though not technically group therapy, 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Alateen offer support groups, but the fun doesn’t stop at treating alcoholism and its effects on families. Depressed Anonymous is a thing! There’s also one if you want to be less messy? Go to this very Web.0 site and scroll through the sample topics in the yellow box, which include headaches, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and workaholism. Most of the resources are other websites that offer books and information, but you’ll be surprised how many areas of mental health have free support groups as well.
2. Look Into Books
Some of my most profound personal breakthroughs have happened in the middle of a really good book. Books that make you think about the universe and your role in it are a good place to get lost in order to find yourself. Do you know about the “shelves” section of Goodreads? It is kind of like my dream bookstore, only it’s a website. Whenever I go to the bookstore, I get frustrated and overwhelmed by the section names. “Fiction,” for starters, is the most general, least helpful category on the planet. The shelves at Goodreads, on the other hand, are wildly specific. Like the one called “Finding Yourself,” which is full of novels and memoirs that’ll inspire a thoughtful reader. For me, the simple act of getting engrossed in a really good book can be meditative. Until I found the “Speculative Fiction” shelf, I didn’t even know my favorite genre had a name. Just tool around in there awhile, and maybe you’ll find that books about “Shapeshifters” provide you with some much-needed alone time.
It might seem silly, but looking at my bookshelf at home, you can get a pretty good idea of who I am. That’s why online profiles ask what your favorite books or bands are—it’s shorthand for “What’s your thing?” My thing is NOT Little Women. Trust me, I’ve tried. I’m more of a 1984 kind of gal.
3. Take a Class/Find a Hobby
Here’s the great thing about learning a new skill or having a hobby: Even when you don’t know what you’re doing with your life, you’re still doing something with your life. No doubt! When I was massively pregnant and couldn’t move much or use my brain or stay awake for more than a few hours at a time, I still went to pottery class and tried to make something with my clumsy hands. Sheila said that molding clay into coffee mugs was a metaphor for creating life. Oh, oh Sheila! Regardless, it just felt good to be productive, even if the product was a broken bowl. You might wake up tomorrow morning—graduation day!—with a brand-new huge zit on the tip of your nose and a text message from your lover saying “I’m not your lover anymore,” and it’ll be comforting to know that as soon as you’ve walked down the aisle and grabbed your diploma, you can head straight back to your garage and WAIL ON THAT AXE. (At your first guitar lesson, they’ll teach you to call it an “axe.”)
I like to use Yelp to find classes. Just now, I searched on “classes for teens” in my zip code, and within the first 20 results I found: rock school, martial arts, hip-hop dance, go-karting, CPR, acting, and yoga. And if none of those interest you, you can just search in the next town over. Don’t feel embarrassed, either, to go in knowing NOTHING, or to be the only person like you in your class. I’ve been the youngest potter, the oldest and least hip hip-hop dancer, the grumpiest chef, and the least motivated air-brusher at the table. In the end, I was the only one who noticed. Most of the time, everyone is so worried about their own awkwardness, they barely have time to pay attention to yours. And in a classroom, all but one of you is a student, so it’s OK not to know anything. Plus, in these types of classes, there are no grades. No pressure! Elaine, my friend at pottery, made the same plate for months—throwing one on the wheel, accidentally smushing it, tossing it in the trash, throwing another, baking it, dropping and breaking it. Eventually, she finished one—it was about three inches in diameter and had these tiny little ladybugs painted on it. It looked like a Fabergé egg of a plate, and I think I’m going to steal it. You can also craft in solitude, if that’s more your style. Wander the aisles at a craft or art supply store and see if anything strikes your fancy. Wouldn’t it feel good to build a birdhouse? Make’s website lists about a billion DIY projects, from robots to woodworking to clothing design.
4. Socialize With Strangers
I’ve never personally attended an official meetup, but I have plenty of friends who attend and LOVE them. One goes to sneakerhead parties where everyone talks about shoes, I guess? Or at least they start out talking about shoes, and then they just become regular friends with really great shoes. Another pal is into bowling but doesn’t have a league, so she goes to bowling meetups. And I just looked up “bowling meetups” and spied a non-bowling group called Animal Loving Agnostic Dorks. Something for everyone! Getting together with a bunch of folks who are into something is a really efficient way to find out if it’s your thing, too. You’re either thrilled to finally have someone understand your theory about Star Wars, or you’re like, “Ugh, who cares who shot first!? I guess not me!”
5. Keep Exploring!
Who you are is going to change. You’re going to keep learning new things and changing your mind about stuff you were so sure you’d never change your mind about, and that’s what life is about. You don’t have to be, or be into, one thing for all of eternity. Sometimes, it can feel like any choice you make—in hobbies, friends, lovers, location—will etch your future in stone, but try to let go of that. You can switch therapists, quit a class after a week, never attend another sneakerhead party. The point isn’t to commit to something in spite of what your gut says, so this is permission not to feel trapped by your choices. As my mom always says, but probably didn’t make up, “Any plan that can’t be changed isn’t a very good plan.” Once you find yourself, enjoy you while you last, because chances are a new you will come along someday.
Does this class look fun, or will I break my ankle? Stay tuned. ♦