What kind of a question is that, you ask? It's a very simple, focused, important question for each of us to not only ask, but to do some hard, analytical, introspective mining for the answer. The reasons most people never get to know who they really are, are several. But, to mention only a few, first, it's hard work (and we are always looking for ways to avoid hard work); second, most of us are way to superficial to truly dig beyond the surface; third, most likely, we're not going to like what we find; fourth, if we actually do dig past that superficial defensive surface and find out who is really under it, not only will we possibly not like what we find, but we won't know what to do with this knowledge.
I always fall back on one of my favorite authors, M. Scott Peck, when it comes to subjects like this. Certainly, we can also look to Fromm and Freud and on a more contemporary basis, Wayne Dyer, Dr Phil McGraw and Eckhart Tolle. They may all crossover in some of their theories and explanations, but each has his own approach to this idea of learning who one really is. We've heard people say, and you may have said it yourself on one or more occasions when you needed to figure out why something painful is going on in your life, "I need time (or space) to find myself."
Unfortunately, most people never do find themselves because reality and truth are usually painful. As children, we typically grew up in a protected environment where there was one or more adults, in the roles of parents or grandparents, who did their best to shield us from painful truth and reality. Some and, perhaps, most people never fully develop beyond that childhood level when they become adults. Now, as adults, the painful realities and truths are shielded by "defense mechanisms" like "passing the buck." Our parents passed this "shielding" on to us as their parents did to them and we, typically, will to our offspring. A marriage failed because it was his/her fault. A job was lost because the boss didn't like me or I was discriminated against, harassed or required to do jobs that I didn't feel were my responsibility. Friendships are end because he or she or this group of people changed or brought someone new into the circle or whatever other reasons (excuses) a person can conjure up.
Here Is A Reality and Fact . . .
You are a totally unique creation. Now, please, don't take this down a religious creationism or Darwinian evolutionary path. I'm not going to debate anyone on his or her personal belief systems. They are yours and I support your right to believe whatever you choose to believe and I'm not going to attempt to convert you one way or the other. It is scientific fact, no matter how humans came to inhabit this planet (along with every other species of animal and plant life), we are the sum total (in the case of humans) of 23 pairs of chromosomes made up of thousands of variations of genetic material from genomes we still don't have a complete understanding of. Setting aside the thousands of genetic possibilities, the 23 pairs of chromosomes allow for the possibility of literally trillions of combinations. The likelihood of there ever being any two humans exactly the same is beyond comprehension. Even identical twins, triplets and other multiple birth siblings are different from one another.
But, this scientific aspect of humanness is mainly about the physical attributes of each person. This includes the gender, race, hair color, whether one will lose one's hair or keep it throughout his or her lifetime, eye color, nose, ears, skeletal and muscular structure, size one will grow to in stature, foot size, hand size, the size of one's brain, the acuity of one's brain and so on. It, in my opinion, also determines our talents, gifts and abilities. In other words, some people will excel athletically. Someone else will excel in music, painting, sculpting, architecture, writing, etc. That's not to say that someone who is athletic may not be artistically or creatively inclined or vice-versa. It simply means that some will lean more in one direction rather than another by some predisposition involving the chromosomes and the genes. While in other cases one simply does not physically have what is required to be a modern day "gladiator" (athlete) while some with athletic prowess may not be able to carry a tune in a bucket or draw a straight line with a T-square. But, these are the observable parts of humans. We can visually see someone's beautiful "baby blues," naturally wavy, blonde hair, very long legs, strong upper musculature and so on. We may be a 90-pound weakling like in the old Charles Atlas magazine ads and believe we can transform ourselves into Arnold Schwarzenegger "body doubles" - but don't count on it.
This isn't the important part of "finding yourself." Unfortunately, this is as far as many people ever go. They create their persona and self-identity by how they think they appear to others and how they want to believe others perceive them. That's why we have such a thriving fashion industry, cosmetic industry, jewelry industry, plastic surgery industry, body shaping gym industry, etc. We spend, literally hundreds of billions of dollars on either trying to make ourselves into something we're not, look like something we're not and then keep what we had when we were young and defy the reality and absolute process of aging. We can't and don't want to accept the reality of who we actually are as human beings. In some cases, I'd call it "trying to play God" or maybe defy nature.
Is this bad? The answer to that is way above my pay grade. As someone who espouses a philosophy of "living free" and being controlled in the least number of ways possible, I tend to view most of this, other than good commonsense, as folly and, again, attempting to play God. Keeping one's self in good health and good physical condition to enjoy a full, fulfilling and happy life for as long as our unique, individually designed and created body will do so is the positive approach to living free. However, living with a medicine cabinet full of chemicals and utilizing mechanical and electrical devices to keep all of our pieces and parts working, even long after they've worn out and we are confined to an assisted living facility or a nursing home for years, is no longer, in my opinion, living free.
It amazes me to park on the QVC or HSN shopping channels periodically just to watch and listen to what I consider human folly. There's the Ah Bra and the Genie Bra, the Dr. Perricone's or some other person's "anti-aging" products, or the amazing tops or bottoms in colors that sound more like a super market produce and meat section. The list is endless as is the, never ceasing for a breath, pitching of these myriad products that I count as frivolous. But, all of this plays to the vanity and superficial self-identities that humans live with. It blows my mind to see 25 cents worth of one ounce of some cream in a $1.00 bottle and a $5.00 package with a list price of $225.00 dollars, but selling today as "Today's Special Value" for only $89.95 plus $7.95 shipping and handling and available in six flex payments of $15.00 each over six months (for a one month supply). And then they show the numbers of units being ordered. Yikes! A quarter million to a half million bucks of sales in an hour or two. I guess that's how some people are "finding themselves" . . . or is it "hiding themselves?"
Now, if it sounded like that was slanted more toward the female of the species, it was because that's who is most susceptible to these kinds of products in today's electronic marketing world. It all started with the Ronco Veg-O-matic from the father and son Popeil team in the mid-60's. "It slices! It dices!" The age of saturation television advertising (infomercials, if you will) was launched and now the shopping networks are simply 24/7 infomercials. "But, wait! Order now and we'll send you another _________ absolutely FREE, just pay separate shipping and handling." But, let me not be sexist. The male of the species is just as susceptible to the right offers. Perhaps, he's not drawn to QVC or HSN, but they capture his eyeballs (and credit card) on the myriad sports programs and networks with offers that appeal to the macho man. Let's not forget Mr. Ray's Hair Weave for balding men in the Baltimore/Washington, DC area back in the 80's or Rogaine, a weak version of Minoxidil, a high blood pressure medication that helps prevent hair loss and stimulates hair regrowth in some instances. I often wondered if you used your hands to rub Rogaine into your head to make hair grow, would it grow hair on the palms of your hands? And, then there is Viagra and Cialis. Men are buying into cosmetics and hair coloring, too. And when you see those Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley ads for the Total Gym, whom do you think Chuck's talking to about 6-pack abs?
The Point . . . Life is Superficial as Most People Know It!
The point is this. All of this is superficial. I don't believe that 100, 1,000 or 5,000 years ago our world was as complicated or as superficial as it has become over the past century or so. Men were men. Women were women. They each enjoyed certain small luxuries. The elite or aristocratic numbers were quite small and typically, they were the few who could afford the relatively few luxury items that were available during their various times in history.
Along with all the advances in our world have come a plethora of choices in lifestyles, luxuries, amenities and just downright indulgences. We, in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, and the developed cities in Australia, New Zealand and some other developed nations have adopted superficiality as a way of life. When the question "Who am I . . . REALLY?" is bandied about, few people ever reach the point of truly seeking truth and reality beyond this level of superficiality.
Reverting back to M. Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, he asks a question and presents a three-part answer. The question is, "What does a life of total dedication to truth mean?" His three-part answer is:
"It means, first of all, a life of continuous and never ending stringent self-examination." That would be soul-searching or finding one's self.
The second part of the answer is: "A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged." In other words, facing the painful truths and realities about ourselves that we keep putting off, making believe they don't exist. What we don't know can't hurt (cause pain) us.
"The third thing that a life of total dedication to the truth means, therefore, is a life of total honesty. It means a continuous and never ending process of self-monitoring to assure that our communications - not only the words that we say but also the way we say them - invariably reflect as accurately as humanly possible the truth or reality as we know it."
In essence, what this is saying is when you do the searching and find yourself, "You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free." That's John 8:32 from the Bible. I'm not preaching to you. Though as a teenager I believed I had a calling to the Baptist ministry. But, that was then and this is now. I'm a long, long way from being a Baptist preacher or any other kind of organized religious preacher. I simply used that to illustrate how this concept of knowing ourselves is not part of some new psychobabble or new age philosophy. It is simply truth in a pure sense. This is where the Greek philosophers minds were ever exploring, the great frontier of truth and reality in the human experience.