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Find out who you are and do it on purpose (part 3)

20 September, 2007 Posted by Joanna As Inspiration

One of the most popular search terms to my sites is this: find out who you are and do it on purpose.

I think perhaps people have heard the words and found that it’s a phrase that means something, that speaks to them in some way and they want to know more about it. Who said it, and what it means.

The first time I wrote about it I was just sharing the quote (from Dolly Parton) because it spoke to me too – I thought it was a good, simple way of thinking about life and the way that we can choose to live it.

I came back to it again in response to a question from a reader – pushing me as to what “finding out who you are and doing it on purpose” actually meant. Well I tried to explain as best I could, or at least as far as what it meant to me.

But when I look back at my answer I see I focused a bit more on the ‘doing it on purpose’ part than the ‘finding out who you are’ bit. I was reminded of this the other day when I got a killer question in response to the “two simple steps to writing with authenticity” piece that Robert Hruzek had written here.

For those of you that missed it, the two simple steps were this:

1. Find out who you are
2. Write that way

The killer question (thanks Brad!) was this: how do you find out who you are?

Now there are many different ways of trying to answer this. It’s a question and a quest that’s as old as mankind, the subject of philosophical, religious, spiritual teachings, the stuff of modern day personal development – heck, I could easily write a whole book about this subject never mind one small blog post.

But I don’t want to cop out of the question because of the scale of the task - and I did want to think of a way to reduce it back to a manageable size. The best way I could think to do this was to reflect on ways that words and writing can help us in our quest.

Because I think it’s a cyclical process. We need to have some idea of who we are before we can write as ourselves, write with authenticity. But writing - the act of forming, creating, stringing words together - well that can help us to work out who we might be in the first place.

Here are 7 ways that writing’s helped (or rather helping) me find out who I am.

1. Learn from what you’ve written: this is probably the most fundamental way that writing helps us to find out who we are. I don’t know about you but writing for me comes from a place that isn’t just in the domain of my conscious mind. When I write – about an idea, a place, an experience, an emotion, something that’s important to me – well the words have a life of their own and it’s only when I stop and look back at them that you sometimes find yourself saying – wow. I hadn’t entirely realised – but now I know.

This is how Joan Didion describes it:

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

2. Write your values, your way: life coaches often get people to write down their values - the things that are important to them - or to pull out the values that ‘speak’ to them most clearly from a list. Sometimes this works better by finding your own words, your own phrases for the stuff that you do or believe in, the things that are important to you – and to find the words that resonate, that cause an emotional or even physiological reaction when you read them or write them.

3. Listen to other people’s words for what you do and who you are: sometimes other people’s words, things they say or write about you can hit you between the forehead with a blast of realisation: “that’s it!” I don’t think it means other people are more insightful than we are – more that we latch on to the words that we recognise as being core or central to us. The words resonate, and that’s what gives us the reaction

4. Reread your lines of poetry: I reckon most people have a few lines or a verse of a poem that is really important to them, that grounds them, that reconnects them with ‘who they are’ or what really matters. I know I do. Late Fragment is one. It gets me back to ‘what really matters here’ each and every time.

5. Write a journal: creating a private space to write your thoughts can be a life-saving way of working out what’s going on and who you are, what’s important, how to make sense of it all. I haven’t kept always a journal but have written furiously in my own space at key times - mainly of turmoil or trouble admittedly, but it’s definitely been part of the learning journey

6. Write out loud: writing for an audience is so different from writing in a private space – not least in terms of the sense of connection and connectedness you get as a consequence. It’s one of the reasons blogging is such a powerful medium. It connects our words with those of others. And when we feel that sense of connection – when we feel grateful for a comment or a conversation that ‘speaks’ to us – somewhere in our core - when we find ourselves valuing the quality of on-line relationship, the possibilities for new work and new learning that emerge from it – well those things we’re valuing can provide a valuable clue as to who we are and what we’re about – because it’s come from what we’ve chosen or are choosing to reveal about ourselves

7. Know your bottom line: Sometimes we’re challenged to think of a few words that sum up what we’re about. Hemingway’s is a particularly powerful version:

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

– and I wonder – if you can do this, write it, tell it: what does it say to you about who you are?

This is far from a conclusive list - these are just the ones that came to mind (and in fact, as if to prove to my point – I didn’t consciously “know” these things before I wrote them down…)

I’m sure there are many ways besides that we can use the power of writing to come to know ourselves – and to live life on purpose. I’d love to know which ones work for you?

This piece is part of a series of posts exploring what we mean by authentic writing - “finding out who you are and writing that way”.

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

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Related posts:

  1. Power, possibility & purpose: what I’ve been writing elsewhere
  2. Writing with a purpose
  3. Blog writing with a purpose

Categories : Inspiration

RobynNo Gravatar September 28, 2007

Joanna, I just visited Liz Strauss’s SOB Cafe and saw that she named this as an outstanding read. Great pick!

I just had to come by to see what you said this time!

Joanna YoungNo Gravatar September 29, 2007

Robyn, thanks for alerting me - this was a lovely surprise to switch on to this morning. And I see I was in good company at the SOB cafe!


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