self-discovery tips

Self-Discovery: The Journey to You

Self-Discovery: The Journey to You
By Sandi Coyne-Gilbert, MBA DM
MS Organizational Leadership Program Director, Goodwin College

I have always loved the statement, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Its author, the philosopher Lao Tzu, reminds us that, try as we might to begin with the end in mind, there is unfathomable power in that first step. And not every worthwhile quest means leaving your zip code! Self-discovery is a long journey that means digging deep into the essence of your being.

So how do we explore the first step in this journey? And why do we need to really know ourselves? One possible answer is that the more we know, the more we can experience.

John Lennon offered, “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.” Self-discovery is work — hard work — but the outcomes can be amazing. In many cases, people who have encountered an obstacle and been unable to move beyond it experience an intense desire to really know themselves. Your relationship sours, your job is not secure, you struggle with finances — and suddenly you begin to feel you might not really be the sunny, positive winner you always imagined you were. You feel off the path, separated from the people you know, and frightened that no one can understand. Actually, the chances are good that many people in your circle do know what it means to realize you do not know yourself as well as you believed.

We have a tendency to follow up the question “who am I?” with a desire to blame someone — anyone — to get the focus off ourselves and create a feeling of being on level ground again. Following a breakup in a relationship, many people find fault in their former partner, rather than ask what they could have done differently.  People do not like to examine the areas where they do not have great abilities or, worse yet, where they might be at fault.

I am guessing you might think you know a few “perfect” people — the ones who never look harried, are always dressed right, seem to have it all together. While their lives might look perfect, in reality they are flawed, but, hey, so are you, so am I — we all have flaws, large and small. And if we are lucky, we recognize those flaws and begin working to improve ourselves.

Remember Lao Tzu “journey of a thousand miles”? Well, it’s unlikely that you will find perfection awaiting you at the end, but you might gain a better understanding and appreciation of yourself. You might even find that your greatest challenges bring about your greatest strengths. So how does this impact self-discovery?

Here are six steps to consider on your journey:

  1. Ask yourself, “What do I really want, deep down?” Be specific in each area of your life. Many people convince themselves about what they want based on what others have or what advertisements tell us we need.


  1. On your journey, think about the tools you have to bring with you. What are the skills, knowledge, abilities, and attributes that you can bring along?


  1. Know your purpose. Purpose is a powerful element, coloring everything and giving beauty to your tools you have. What do you love to do? What makes you want to get up in the morning? When I was in second grade, I knew I wanted to make the world a better place and that sentiment has guided me ever since.


  1. Try new things. We can’t find our purpose or react with clarity when our daily routine becomes a matter of rinse and repeat. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do something that scares you every day.” If you did, how far would you go?


  1. Ask people who truly know you what they think you are best at and what they count on you to provide to them and others. It is surprising how often this guides us. Kaplan Mobray, a fabulous motivational speaker, states that you should always ask yourself (and others) what do people say when you leave the room?


  1. Be compassionate and caring with yourself. Undertake this journey with the understanding that you might be hit with some hard realities about what you need to work on. Your kindness and loving care can help self-discovery to be less daunting and more effective.


Self-discovery will take you on an amazing path. Often it seems the end is ridiculously far away, and other times it almost seems like it is just within your grasp. But a Lao Tzu says, the journey begins with a single step. Perhaps it is time to take that first step now?