On Building a Life: Who Are You (Really)?



Part of Our Series on Building a (Courageous Woman’s) Life


I have no idea who I really am.”

She looked a little lost, surprised, I think, that she’d said this out loud – to herself, and to me. She had a lifetime of experience, was a woman who’d run large organizations, started her own successful business, traveled the world. Most who met her knew her as funny, competent, accomplished.

And yet.

As we began our work together, exploring what was working in her life, and what wasn’t, she knew something wasn’t right. Something was missing. There was no joy. No satisfaction. No peace. And at least part of that was because she had no idea who she was, or what she (really) wanted.

So, if I asked you these two questions, would you know how to answer them?

Who are you, really?

And what do you want for yourself?


Most women are startled by the question. Have no idea. Have never thought about it.

I don’t know! No one’s ever asked me that before…” they’ll say, raising their palms in a sheepish gesture. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten that EXACT response.

Yet, knowing who you are, and what you want, is the foundation for Building a (Courageous Woman’s) Life.

Why This Matters

In my last post, I talked about the importance of creating joy in our lives, of getting off the couch and out the front door, of trying something new and exploring what you love – or just like. :)

Because it comes down to this. You can live by accident if you choose. You can drift down the river of your time on the planet like a piece of driftwood on the Mississippi.

You can survive, getting through day after day, passively accepting and reacting to whatever happens around you, throwing up your hands when something’s not what you want, choosing to believe that you can’t do anything about it.

And of course – we all have parts of our lives that we have to accept, cope with, work around.

But that doesn’t mean you are powerless.

And that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy.

Because, if you choose, you can build your own boat, grab a paddle, read the maps and decide for yourself how, when and where you want your life to go.

Because, if you choose, you can do the work it takes to discover who you are, what you care about, what feeds your spirit, what matters to you.

And then, armed with that self awareness, you can choose to live your life in the ways that fit who you are.

You can explore ways big and small to build your life around the things (and people) you love.

You can choose to live on purpose.


So where do you start?

How does a Courageous Woman go about figuring her Self out?

Well, you might do some exploring. :)

For starters, spend some time thinking about what you already know. Most of my clients find it helpful to take a simple notebook and do some journaling. By that, I mean to write freely, randomly, about whatever comes to mind. No judgment. No structure. No grading. Just write – and see what emerges.

Not sure what to write? Try starting with questions like the following.

1. What was the very first thing you can ever remember wanting to be when you grew up?

When you were little, you dreamed big dreams, because the world hadn’t told you yet that those dreams were silly, or unreachable. What did you want to be, and what could that tell you about yourself?

Me? I wanted to be either a dancer on the Jackie Gleason Show, or a “spunky” nurse like the main character in a series of books called “Sue Barton, RN”. 

(Yes, I’m old enough to remember those.)

2. What were you favorite, and least favorite, subjects in school? Or, what have you enjoyed learning SINCE school?

I loved my high school poetry class, but struggled to get through science. A friend of mine was fascinated by biology, but thought her English classes were torture. You may have loved gym better than any of it.

What do your favorites tell you about your interests?

3. What kind of books, TV shows, or movies do you enjoy the most?

Are there certain themes, subjects, types of characters, or issues that you’re drawn to? Maybe you love the entertainment value of a good spy movie, a murder mystery or a love story. Or perhaps you like to learn by plowing your way through self-help books or a thick book about Thomas Jefferson.

4. What tickles your brain?

That is, what is it that, when you hear about it or come across it in some way, you find yourself eager, curious, wanting to know more, learn more? Perhaps your ears perk up when someone talks about fixing up their house or trying a new recipe. You may find yourself curious about some new technology on the horizon, or organic gardening. I can talk for hours with total strangers about places to go and things to see.

What has that effect for you?

5. What secret wish makes your heart pound?

This one is the most powerful of all. This is the dream, the secret, that starts the argument in your head. “It would be so cool if I could…. but who am I kidding? I could never do that...

Perhaps you secretly dreamed of conducting the Chicago Symphony, or flying a plane solo. Maybe you’ve thought about running for office, or opening your own restaurant. Perhaps you’ve imagined raising a houseful of foster children, getting a college degree, or running your own program for struggling vets.

Whatever it is, pay attention to it. Write about it. Imagine it all the way through. And watch out for that negative voice, the pesky one just over your shoulder that says ‘not you’. Tell it to shut up and shove off, because you can think for yourself.

Sure, it may be pretty unlikely at this point that you’ll conduct the Chicago Symphony, but you could add symphony tickets to your birthday wish list. :)

One Woman’s Discovery

This spring I counseled a young woman who worked production at a local plant. As I got to know her, I learned that she had a knack for fixing the machines on her line when systems failed, and she enjoyed that. “You have an engineer-mind…”, I said. Her look told me she had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained.

I have what I think of as a ‘humanities‘ brain. That means, I do well with words, abstract reasoning, and the creative arts. I loved English and history, philosophy and poetry. That’s one of the reasons I’m good at what I do. My job is about reading the abstract, the words my clients don’t say, the feelings they can’t express, and finding ways to give that information back to them in useful ways.

She, on the other hand, had what I’ve nicknamed an “engineer brain”, someone who tends to like math or science, who thinks analytically, logically, in a linear way. And she was smart.

Had she ever considered college? I asked.

No. No one in her family had ever attended college; it wasn’t something her folks necessarily valued, so it wasn’t even on her radar.

So I asked her to do some ‘exploring’, too.

I gave her a simple homework task; I told her to go on line and see how many different kinds of ‘engineering’ she could find. Pick a couple of large universities, I suggested, and just take a look at the degrees they offer. I knew there was mechanical engineering, chemical, nuclear and civil engineering. But what else was out there?

“Just go see…” I suggested.

She returned the next week with a stack of papers an inch thick, all printouts of various programs she’d discovered, her eyes wide with excitement. She’d always loved biology, and in her search, she discovered a field she’d never heard of called “bio-medical engineering”. I’d never make it through a program like that, but to her, it was perfect. Tailor-made for her interests and abilities.

She was like a kid on Christmas morning who’d just found her dream request under the tree.

Today, she’s enrolled at a local community college with plans to eventually move on to a university. And her future is bright.

No more drifting.

She’s figuring out who she is, and what she wants.

And you?

Spend some time over the next few weeks exploring what makes YOU tick, and send me a note. Tell me what you’ve noticed. If you’re not sure what it all means, I may be able to help.

Life is better when it’s lived with on purpose. And time is passing – so I encourage you to be about figuring this out for yourself.

Who are you?

And what do you (really) want?



Ready to Explore – at the Beach? 
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Photo Credits: by Gep Pascual on Flickr


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