The following is adapted from The Standout Experience.
If I were to ask you who you are, how would you respond?
Perhaps you’d tell me your job, your gender, your age, where you live, whether you have kids. All of those are facts about you. They’re not the “real you.”
The “real you” is about what makes you tick, how you feel, what you like, and what you don’t like.
The problem is, in the messiness of life, it is all too easy to lose sight of the “real you.” We are constantly pushed and pulled in different directions—by our parents, our teachers, our friends, and society at large. We begin defining ourselves through preconceived notions of who others think we are or want us to be, and our real selves end up buried.
Until you know who the “real you” is, you will never find happiness and success. You will forever be chasing some other person’s version of happiness and success.
There are three tools you can use to discover and be the real you: hindsight, insight, and foresight.
Hindsight: A Look at Your Past Self
From birth to around ten years old, you lived completely as the “real you” because you didn’t yet know of any other way to be. Looking back at this past version of yourself is critical to discovering who you really are. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, after all.
Hindsight is not just about discovering who the real you is, but learning how to be the best version of the real you.
Reflecting on the past lets you evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and apply what you’ve learned to be better. The best business leaders do it for their companies and the best athletes do it to win games. You should do it too.
Remember the things you did that led to victories and learn from the mistakes you made, so you don’t repeat them going forward.
Here are some ideas for how to use your past as fuel for becoming the real you.
- Think about one of your best days and write (in as many details as possible) why it was so amazing. How can you replicate those results?
- Think about the moments when you have been at your best. Why were you at your best and how can you replicate that?
- If you had to write your own top ten lessons learned, what would they be? How can you apply them to today?
- When key moments have gone wrong in your past, why did you not get the result for which you were hoping? What did you learn from the experience, and what can you do differently next time?
By reacquainting yourself with your past and your inner child, you can make better decisions for the present and future.
Insight: An Exploration of Your Present Self
Once you’ve reacquainted yourself with your natural state of being, you can learn more about who you are today. You must seek insight, or self-awareness, into your present self.
Self-awareness can show us both our strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself about places where you need to grow, but also be sure to acknowledge and celebrate all of the amazing things about who you are today.
Maybe you’re an exceptional student, a hard-working athlete, a tremendously talented musician, or even a kindhearted and approachable soul. Perhaps you’re a natural born leader, a great philosopher, or really good at helping others.
If any of those constitute a part of who you are today, that’s outstanding! If not, there are a million other ways you could be great. You just need to recognize what they are, so you can leverage them to live the best version of your life.
These questions can help you better understand your present self:
- What are your thoughts, key skills, and superpowers?
- What do you like and don’t like?
- What are you good at and not good at?
- How do you feel about your place in the world?
- How do you interact with others?
Robust self-awareness of your present self builds a healthy foundation for being the real you.
Foresight: A Window into Your Future Self
With an understanding of your past and present self, you can begin to look forward to the future: to who you want to be. The tool of foresight is not so much a prediction of the future, but a promise you make to yourself.
We all grow, develop, and change in some respects over time. Just as your present self is an evolution of your past self, your future self will be an evolution of your present self.
To ensure that you evolve along a path aligned with the real you, you must develop a clear vision for your future self. Without a clear vision, you will more easily be swayed by others’ opinions and views of success and happiness. The point is to have an idea of your future, not someone else’s vision of your future.
Start by thinking about what makes you happy and what your core values are. Then for even greater clarity, try these exercises:
- Ask yourself, “Who is that ideal person I want to be to achieve my goals and dreams?”
- Write a letter to your future self. Describe who you are, what you’re doing and how you feel.
- Create a resume that is you ten years from now and use that as a checklist and roadmap of what to do next.
Ultimately, foresight is about aligning who you are today, which includes all the wonderfully unique skills and abilities you’ve always had, with how you’ll become that better, future version of yourself.
Even if you never achieve that future version of your better self someday, that’s okay. As long as you are moving forward in alignment with the real you, pursuing the things you love and staying true to your values, you will experience fulfillment and satisfaction.
A Diamond in the Rough
You are a unique diamond in the rough, waiting to shine your brilliant “real you” for others to see. A diamond is the perfect mental image for you to think about every day, because it points in four directions:
- Backward to remind you where you’ve been
- Downward to ground you in the present moment
- Forward to tell you to keep moving, no matter what happens
- Upward to inspire you to rise to your greatest potential
With hindsight, insight, and foresight, you can better understand the pieces of your diamond: the real you. With this understanding, you can polish your rough edges and shine at your most brilliant.
For more advice on being the best version of yourself, you can find The Standout Experience on Amazon.
John Walsh is an inspirational and successful executive, entrepreneur, author, husband and dad with a passion for impacting the lives of others. John faced many challenges, uncertainty and failures early in his life but he created a purposeful and happy life with a lot of hard work and help from others. Over time, he created a playbook that allowed him to make the journey from homeless in high school to a senior executive with Disney and Madison Square Garden. He is also the founder and CEO of a company whose mission is to inspire and help millions of young adults stand out in their own lives and careers.