Live Through This

A Guide to Finding Yourself

In five short(ish) steps!

Illustration by Herikita Con K.

Illustration by Herikita Con K.

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. Finding 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. ♦

29 Comments

  • spudzine May 19th, 2014 4:00 PM

    I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I had no idea I could look up classes for teens(or classes for ANYTHING) on Yelp. And it’s so refreshing to see someone(in this case Jane Marie) write out to the world that we can switch up our lives as much as we want, when we want to. I feel like people in school are always trying to fit you into a box, and I know that sounds stereotypical, but some people already have their futures after high school planned out, and I have NO idea what I’m going to do, so it’s nice to know that I don’t HAVE to know what I’m going to do, ya know? Haha, anyway, we never know what’s going to happen to us, so might as well take chances while we can!

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http:/emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • cristal22 May 19th, 2014 5:11 PM

    The key is, just to get yourself out there . I am going to try all of these over the summer !

  • Vlada May 19th, 2014 6:12 PM

    Everything this post says is 100% true. I decided I wanted a change not so long ago, and I like how things turned out. I realised that I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy or try new things and it was exhausting. sometimes it’s still difficult to remind myself that before wanting someone to know me I should allow me to know myself and face the consequences.
    Thank you for writing such a lovely article :)

    PS: This is my blog speakingofvlada.blogspot.com

  • annalucy1997 May 19th, 2014 7:19 PM

    What I love about Rookie is that I leave with a million of other things to read/listen to/watch/do. Thanks Jane Marie for making my half term a lot more interesting :) xx

  • Haleyhaley2w May 19th, 2014 7:35 PM

    I really need this right now. I’m feeling very emotionally broken down at the moment and think that doing any of these things would help me put the way I’m feeling into words and hopefully help me feel better. thank you :)

  • chloe_harmony May 19th, 2014 8:41 PM

    I agree with all these actions apart from seeing a therapist. Seeking therapy is not a positive act, all it is is a means to speak about your problems, and wallow in self pity. It doesn’t help, all it does is result in objectifying your character traits.
    Stop thinking about your motions, read everything, follow your intuition and gut feelings, say yes to everything, explore the unknown …. and break on through to the other side, and to the other side and to the other side xx

    • Anaheed May 19th, 2014 8:50 PM

      I respectfully disagree. Therapy has helped me immeasurably — among other things, it’s taught me to pity myself LESS.

    • bonnie.mclovin May 19th, 2014 8:54 PM

      for me, the experience is pretty much day by day but i know that although sometimes it can feel like what you are describing, a lot of the times it is a way to verbally purge my crazy thoughts so they don’t stay contained for all too long

    • blueolivia May 19th, 2014 10:27 PM

      i would be cautious about saying that. even if you have had a bad experience with therapy or have low opinions of it, it can make people feel really awful to read things like that. when i went on medication for anxiety, my friend went on a tirade about how it was a bad decision and it made me feel terrible for weeks. therapy doesn’t work for everyone, and you have a complete right to that opinion, but remember that it is an opinion and should be stated as such ♥ i personally found therapy very rewarding and helpful.

    • Cerise May 19th, 2014 11:18 PM

      Perhaps it depends on the person. I know for me, talking about my problems to someone (whether it’s a therapist or not) helps me gain perspective on them and find a way to move forward. Keeping them all to myself is what propels me into a quagmire of self-pity and unfounded fear.

    • Mimi7 May 19th, 2014 11:49 PM

      I think it depends on your therapist and how willing you are to get to know yourself

    • chloe_harmony May 20th, 2014 4:35 AM

      First of all I wish to apologise for any ignorance that my past comment may have illustrated.
      I am extremely sympathetic to all of those who seek therapy. I myself have been on antidepressants for a while now, and I will not deny that they have transformed my life immeasurably, and so has the counselling that I have had with my doctors. Talking most definitely helps, and having someone who is conscientious and who actually listens is so valuable.
      Sure, the medicine has clarified all the emotional fog that I was dealing with prior to taking medicine, but just taking medicine and talking about your problems (something that I’m very good at) won’t wash away the things that are really frustrating you.
      I wish to make clear that my previous comment was to stress the fact that not only talking to someone is going to help if you’re not willing to actively make a change for the better, and that paying for counselling in the hope that they have all the answers is just not the case.
      You should be prepared about seeking therapy, consider first what it is exactly that you want gain from it and change, and decide whether it is the right thing for you. The most important thing is to want to make an effort to actively get rid of bad feelings.
      I know it’s hard at first but one step at a time, and everything will be beautiful, I promise
      xxx

      P.S don’t forget that us ladies have hormones, and sometimes we’re allowed to be moody :p

      • listen comma lady May 20th, 2014 12:31 PM

        It’s fine that you don’t like therapy, but you’re wrong that it is the same as “just talking about your problems,” and even if that IS all it is, it’s clinically proven that that can help. And it’s fine if you show up _not knowing if you want to change._ That’s totally normal and a therapist can still help. (I know a lot about how therapy works, partly because I’ve been in therapy for a very long time, and I also know that “wanting to change” is very, very complicated in how we feel, express, and commit to it.)

  • bonnie.mclovin May 19th, 2014 8:52 PM

    talking in general to people who you often see yet don’t socialize with often has really helped me break out of my comfort zone a lot
    Ive decided to do 1 thing that scares me for 100 days (I’m calling it 100 fears) and so far I’m on day 14. IT IS THE BEST EXCUSE TO DO WHAT YOUVE ALWAYS WANTED
    do you want to wear the diy eye makeup you saw on that one blog? well now you have no excuse to back out
    you’ve been needing to talk to someone and avoiding them? make that a day
    you want to start an uprising? by all means

    the stars are the limit, moonflowers

  • gentleman honey farmer May 19th, 2014 11:40 PM

    This is SO great. Right now I am struggling with the disconnect between knowing what I have to do in order to feel better and actually leaving my house to do those things. I am a HUGE fan of Jane’s back from the Hairpin days, and it is such a relief to know that a wise, gorgeous, and seemingly totally put-together goddess like her suffers the same vulnerabilities as someone like me.
    Thank you, Jane!

  • gentleman honey farmer May 19th, 2014 11:53 PM

    I would also love to know if Jane could recommend any books she found particularly enlightening!

    • JaneMarie May 20th, 2014 2:17 PM

      Thanks for reading! I just scanned my bookshelf and here are some that really got to me. They are all over the map: 1984, Geek Love, Slaughterhouse Five, The Book of Ruth (the one by Jane Hamilton), Lonesome Dove, Don’t Let’s Go to The Dogs Tonight, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn…

      • gentleman honey farmer May 20th, 2014 9:35 PM

        Thanks, Jane! I’ve added all the ones I haven’t read to my Goodreads “to read” shelf ;-)

      • Anaheed May 21st, 2014 3:47 AM

        LONESOME DOVE FOREVER AND EVER

  • RyleyK May 20th, 2014 12:16 AM

    I’ve been feeling really lost with who I am for the past couple of weeks, and this is just what I needed. I will definitely try these all throughout the summer! Thank you xx

  • erinxo May 20th, 2014 3:42 AM

    The first one is completely true. I started seeing a therapist just over a year ago and wow, I have come a long way. I know myself quite well now. :)

  • whateveryazmine May 20th, 2014 7:31 AM

    I really like this because the teen years are so much about “discovering who you arrrrrrre” *Mr Rosso from Freaks and Geeks voice*.
    Angela Chase says “we’re always told to be ourselves like ourselves is something definite like a toaster”. Changing all the time is difficult and I constantly want to rehaul my room/wardrobe/instagram (#2014) to match my new interests but hopefully something soon will stick!
    http://www.whateveryazmine.blogspot.com.au

  • Kiana Kimberly Flores May 20th, 2014 10:06 AM

    Oh no. The Psychology Today site is available for US and Canada only; I’m from Philippines. Are there any chances I’d find an international site like this one?

  • listen comma lady May 20th, 2014 12:29 PM

    IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW: in some states, like Illinois, minors can see a therapist for 5 sessions before parental notification and consent are required.

    • listen comma lady May 20th, 2014 12:36 PM

      I tried to find a handy chart but couldn’t. But to look this up for your state, you want to use the term “minor health consent laws,” in addition to the state you live in and, if you’re getting too many results, “mental health.”

  • samieh_m May 20th, 2014 1:42 PM

    I don’t know why but reading this article made me happy ! (:

  • tiffandzeke@gmail.com May 21st, 2014 10:21 AM

    Although I definitely know the value of a therapist and feel a teen and parents should actively seek out therapy during cases of depression, anxiety, and the like… I feel for an article titled, ” A Guide to Finding Yourself” therapy as a way to find yourself is not accessible for many people. Insurance sometimes covers therapy but not usually on such broad issues as finding oneself. The suggestion to persuade parents with the comparison to braces turned me off a little. Coming to find oneself requires introspection. And yes, therapy does provide that. But so does writing copious amounts questioning, diving deeper into what one things about a variety of things. Free-handed writing, etc. And this gives a person the skill to discover their self. I basically, just found “find a therapist” impractical for a majority of people who don’t have extensive insurance and possible leaving them without things that are very much within their reach. Loved the other four steps.

  • moon-brother May 22nd, 2014 3:29 AM

    6. Read Rookie :)

  • wallflower152 May 30th, 2014 9:19 PM

    This reminds me…I really want to join a book club!