All of us have heard this aphorism. Most of us acknowledge that unless you know yourself first, you really can’t achieve much in life. We also realize that we each have immense potential to create amazing things and find lasting happiness.
Most of us don’t even scratch the surface of knowing who we really are, let alone figuring out what we have the potential to become.
We are so confused that we keep oscillating between overconfidence and low self-esteem. One minute we are filled with a definite purpose for life and the next we are completely desolate.
How can anyone hope to find lasting happiness in this state?
In my quest for clarity, purpose and self growth, I’ve come to realize that asking the right questions is sometimes in itself the answer.
Here is a list of 20 questions to get to started on a journey of self-discovery:
Who Are You?
What is the one thing that makes you special and unique?
There is no other person on this planet quite exactly like you. For just a moment, quit focusing on what you are not, what you wish to be or what others expect from you. Instead, find out what is the one thing you already have that makes you special. Identify it, acknowledge it, respect it, and make it central to how you carry yourself.
How do people perceive you?
Do people see you for the special person that you are? Do they appreciate your unique abilities? If not, what is the reason? How can you change it?
Maybe a quote by Henry Longfellow — “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” — has the answer? How can you bridge the gap between what you are uniquely capable of being and the person that you currently are?
If money was not a constraint, what would you be doing with your time?
Write a book? Become a singer? Grow a beautiful garden? Spend more time with your family?
Take your time. Feel free to daydream. Once you have the vision in your mind, think of what is the one thing you can do now to move just one step closer to that vision. When you have a vision and start taking action, the universe will conspire to make it a reality.
What do you do for a living?
There is nothing deep about this question. It really is as simple as it sounds. If your answer matches what you answered to the previous question, then you are on the right track. If you answered “Become a writer” above and “I am an engineer” to this one, you need to figure out how to bridge the two. Maybe you can start a tech blog or a series of (blockbuster) books about the adventurous engineer or the vampire engineer. Whatever. Figure it out.
What are you grateful for?
How long did you have to think to answer that question?
If you answer was not immediate, you should start looking into developing an attitude of gratitude. Remember the quote – “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”
If you die tomorrow, will you be happy with the life you’ve lived?
I don’t want to sound morbid, but it’s true — you really could die tomorrow.
Have you lived a good life? Have you left good memories to last your kids a lifetime? Or have you forgiven everyone who has wronged you? Have you asked for forgiveness from everyone you have wronged?
If you haven’t seen it yet, I would highly recommend watching the last lecture by Professor Randy Pausch.
What is the one movie you don’t mind watching over and over?
The human mind responds strongly to narratives. That means that the story that touches you the most is the one that can tell you a lot about yourself or the one that you aspire your life to be like.
What is the story that you don’t mind watching/reading over and over again? What is the underlying theme/premise of the story?
Take time to look back at your favorites. If you can’t recall them right away, it may help you get a pen and paper.
If someone made a movie out of your life, what will it be like?
Everybody has a story. What is yours? Would the story of your life be filled with melodrama, self-pity, hatred, anger or frustration? Would it be a story about inner peace, happiness, love, growth, joy and transcendence?
If you are happy with your answer, keep doing what you are doing. If not, a quote by Maria Robinson may be of help: “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”
Who Are Your friends and foes?
If you are in a sinking ship with everyone you know and you could only save 10 people, who would it be?
A lot of us don’t even realize who the most important people in our lives are. We constantly try to impress random people who hardly care about us. And we do it at the expense of neglecting those that matter the most to us. Are you aware of the handful of people that really mean something to you? Are you treating them right?
If you die today, who will miss you the most?
Now, flip that around.
Who are the people that have you on their list of most cherished people? You don’t have to have led a life that warrants a national holiday when you die, but are you leaving behind a legacy that at least a handful of people will cherish?
What will they say in your eulogy?
Why will these people miss you when you are gone? Will they read out your eulogy out of rote and move on with their lives? Or will they choke up unable to continue or will they smile all the way through because you showed them life is to be celebrated?
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers – this is just an exercise to get you to know yourself better.
If you had the power to make someone vanish, who would that be?
Again, look at all the people around you.
Who do you wish was not there?
The people who surround you have the power to lift you up or pull you down. How many people can you afford to have around you that you cannot stand or that bring you down?
If tomorrow’s newspaper read “<Your name here> shot dead”, who would be the person holding the revolver?
Is there someone whose life is made sadder because of your presence? Life is too short – is it worth continuing to be a pain in someone’s life?
Who will you become?
Are you a better person today than you were last year at this same time? Or 10 years ago?
The source of a lot of misery in our lives is because we keep comparing our worst moments with the best of those around us. The only way to break out of this is to change your reference for comparison.
Are you a better person today than you were before? Are you on a path of growth? Or are you moving forward, standing still or slipping backwards?
What was your last random act of kindness?
When was the last time you helped someone carry groceries to their car or just smiled at a stranger who looked like he could use one? When did you last give something in spite of knowing that it’ll never be paid back?
What goes around does come around. What will come back to you? For some real stories of inspiring random acts of kindness, take a look at this.
How many hours of a day do you spend on unproductive activities?
Now, multiply that number with 2.5. That is the number of years of your life you are wasting away, assuming you live to be 80 and discounting the first 20 years of your life.
(X hours/day * 365 days/year * 60 years) / (24 hours/day * 365 days/year).
Agreed, we all need some time to unwind but, are you OK with the number you came up with or does it boggle your mind?
On the flip side, those of you with kids, how many hours a day do you actually spend with your kids without distractions like TV, phone etc.?
Multiply that with 0.75 and that is the number of years you actually spend with your child assuming that they live under your roof for 18 years. If your answer boggles you, come stop by afineparent.com and we’ll figure out a way to fix it.
What if you lose all you money?
Will you be so distraught that you will want to end your life? Will you be so angry and frustrated that you won’t be able to think straight? Or will you be sad but eventually recover?
No doubt, you will always need money. But as long as you remember (and believe) that you are the master of your money, you will be able to roll with life’s punches and thrive in spite of them.
Who is making most of the decisions in your life – you, those around you or your circumstances?
On that note, you are the master of your life as well. But a lot of us find it much easier to give up that power and make circumstances or the people around us the masters of our lives.
Do you ever find yourself saying “I’m not happy because…”?
It does not matter what comes after the last word. Watch your thoughts, watch your words, and reclaim your power over your life.
What is the one thing you fear the most when you think of yourself as an old person?
Are you worried about looking old?
That’s like fearing sunsets. Why be scared of something that is guaranteed to happen and is very dignified if you just change your perspective?
Are you worried about not having money or close family? That’s like having a cow in your backyard and worrying about milk. Spend your time building up a bank balance and nurturing your relationships now.
The same goes for being sick and frail. As long as you take good care of your health and don’t abuse your body now, you will be able to hold a lot of diseases at bay when you are older. Stop being scared and live your life now in such a way that you can continue to celebrate your life right into a ripe old age.
Will you ever be invited to give a talk (eg., TED) or an interview (eg. Oprah) etc.?
Finally, what is your life all about? Are you just sleepwalking through life or are you marching forward with eyes wide open, filled with joy and vitality?
When you choose the latter, irrespective of how “regular” or “boring” your life may seem at present, you will have opportunities to make little differences around you that can change the course of history!
And before we wind up, I want to ask you a bonus question. You read incredibly powerful articles here regularly, but what do you do after reading these articles?
Do you just go on with your life treating it as a drudgery, whining and arguing your way around the people closest you? Or do you live each day as if it were a treasure, enjoying the little moments with those dearest to you as opportunities to make lasting memories?
It really is a choice, but what do you choose?