Who am I?!?
November 27, 2018 3:15 PM   Subscribe

I have recently separated from my husband. My therapist (I'm in therapy weekly) said "Now is a great time to work on yourself, and figure out who you are." Sounds great in theory! In practice, I have a completely blank canvas in front of me for how my life is going to proceed, and it freaks me out. Do you have any good worksheets, books, websites, etc to help me figure out who I am, and what I want? NB: I am 100% happy in my career, and do not want to change that. Most of what I'm finding revolves around the assumption that your job is making you miserable. That is not the case here.

Growing up, I had a Life Plan. I wanted a career, a house, pets, a marriage. I achieved all of that, and never really put thought into what the plan would look like past that point. Now, the marriage is functionally gone, and I feel kind of like I'm floating in the air, with no direction. I also was really codependent for a long time, and am struggling to find out/remember what it is I really want out of life. Sitting down and journaling about "What makes me happy?" is very distressing (I'll unpack that in therapy). I am a person who likes some sort of structure and rules, so if there is a structured way to figure out what makes me happy, and how I should proceed from here, that would be fantastic. I asked my therapist, and she pointed me towards mindfulness exercises, so I am covered in that aspect.
posted by Fig to Human Relations (18 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in a similar situation, I asked this question about discovering my likes and found many of the answers very helpful.
posted by Thella at 3:21 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Don't stress out about what makes you happy. That's a big question that most people cannot answer.

Start small. What do you want to do this weekend? Take some time and browse through some event listings for this weekend. What sticks out at you? Go do it. Maybe you like it, maybe not, but it gives you a starting point. Next weekend, look for something similar or something completely different. Just keep doing things.

This will help you learn how you want to spend your time. Learning how you like to spend your time will help you feel more content with your life.

And I deliberately use the word content. Happiness is a lofty goal, and I don't think we are meant to be happy at all times.
posted by hydra77 at 3:39 PM on November 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

I find these questions easier when I think about when I was 13 years old or so. I wanted to be a famous book author, so I could appear on the Johnny Carson show. I wanted to explore black holes like Isaac Asimov. I wanted to keep playing violin.

I figure, 13 or 14 is not childish things, but sort of adult enough to explore themes of one's self. What I was interested in, writing, outer space and science. Music. I still like all of those things.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:46 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

This falls under your "etc.," I think...Something I've found helpful is to take one-off classes in areas I know little to nothing about. In those spaces (and all the better if they're small and local), it's perfectly fine not to know how to proceed; the instructor will help you, patiently, and you get to learn something new without committing to a huge and expensive craft. For me, it short-circuits perfectionism and the need to appear together, and compels me to ignore my mind's chatter for a few hours while my hands are working. Happiness not guaranteed, but you will have added to the list of Things Fig Can Do and Feel Good About.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:48 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've given away several copies of Po Bronson's "What Should I Do With My Life?"
posted by ottereroticist at 4:12 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

MeFi's own, highly-contentious TheLastPsychiatrist once tossed out this exercise (In this particular case, I'm not sure I'd recommend digging into that link, but I didn't want to not cite sources):

Describe yourself: your traits, qualities, both good and bad.

Do not use the word "am."

Practice this.
posted by kimota at 4:28 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

It's a process! It will unfold for you as you spend some time unpartnered. Years ago when I was in a similar situation, here are some of the things that were part of that unfolding process for me:
1. I went into every room of my abode, stood in every corner, opened every door and cupboard and drawer, and said, aloud, "MINE". Yes, like a two-year-old. It sounds silly, but it was pretty therapeutic and I highly recommend.
2. When I would think about what I wanted to choose or do in a particular situation (and we're not talking Major Life Decisions or anything, even just the everyday little stuff!) I would consider the first thing that came to mind, and then ask myself: is this what I would choose if I gave no fucks?
3. I put myself in new situations and tried new hobbies and made some new friends that had no prior experience of me-with-ex.

I think one of the keys for me was slowly uncovering all of the little and not-so-little compromises and accommodations and personality dampers made on a day-to-day basis to live with this other person, and then trying out life without making those compromises, and from there starting to see what living like just me could be like.
posted by shelbaroo at 4:36 PM on November 27, 2018 [11 favorites]

I’ve found it useful to list out the behaviors or values I’m ok with that other people might not care for, and may even cause them to dislike me. For some reason this has helped me understand myself more than listing out my Likes and Hobbies.

Dropping F bombs at work. I’m ok with that. Oh the joy of a well-placed “faaaawk”

Ultimately not interested in the corporate ladder, though I clearly have that potential. My actions clearly reflect this. Fine by me.

Certain people scare me and I’ll find ways to avoid them.

No I’m not going bowling even though I like you. Call me for the after drinks though.

Karma, past lives, subtle body awakening, I want to roll in patchouli and crystals every weekend

And so on. Base it on your actual actions (not what you think you are, but what your actual habits are). I think that’s the biggest part. What you DO says who you are.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:36 PM on November 27, 2018 [11 favorites]

Here's an exercise you can try, it's called the Master Dream List
On a sheet of paper make 4 columns.
Write in the columns these headers:

Things I want TO HAVE | Things I want TO DO | Things I'd like TO BE | Places I want TO GO

Try to write at least 3 - 5 things in each column but don't limit yourself. Go for it. Write as many things as you can come up with. Do not worry that the things you write are actually achievable. For example, you could write under THINGS I WANT TO HAVE -- "an Academy Award" - even though you are not an actress and will never appear in a Hollywood Movie.

After you have filled the columns with wishes/dreams reflect on what they mean to you. Is a desire to win an Academy Award a wish for recognition? Admiration? Feeling "special"? How else could you achieve that feeling?

Examine the feeling behind the things you put in each column and it might offer you clues to what you actually need in your life right now. The things you wrote down are likely to be good indicators of what you think is necessary for a meaningful life.

Hope this is helpful. Good luck with your efforts.
posted by pjsky at 4:46 PM on November 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

Give yourself permission to be confused. Sudden freedom is very disorienting!

So you are a planning person and you can't just stop doing that, but you can't plan very far ahead right now. So plan a day, and plan realistically what you want to do that day. And the next day, do it again. Plan breaks, tv time, walks, naps, whatever things you need as well as things that are obligations.

You need to pull your horizons in so that you are looking at the now, instead of the next 20 years. That doesn't mean you can't think about long term stuff but that you allow yourself to put it on the back burner until you are ready.

You have a lot of emotional and mental work to do. Arrange your life so that you have the space, time and energy to do it. As you do that, what you want will become clearer.
posted by emjaybee at 4:53 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Figure out, if you haven't already, what you wanted in your marriage for yourself, and were not getting. Like, did you want to go to certain art events, or did you like a certain place to eat, or any one of a number of little things, that irritate. Did you never like the curtains? If you see what I mean, rummage, and grieve, and change the things you always wanted to change, undo compromises you made to get along. Stick with this, and be good to yourself, as good as you can be right now. Do everything you felt was not available to you, or at least some of them. Be good to you, and grieve, because the sooner you do, the sooner it will be over, and you will be walking in your body, on the way to live your life. If you love your job, that is a great plus. Take time for yourself.
posted by Oyéah at 5:26 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I read Eat Pray Love years ago, after a breakup left me shattered. And there are many opinions about the book, but the most helpful thing I got from it was right after her relationship fell to pieces, when she didn’t know what she was doing and everything was hard and confusing, she listened to her inner voice when it wanted something. And these things seemed frivolous, like buy a new pencil case or learn a new language. But it was all she could focus on, and for so long, she had neglected to listen to her inner voice, so she did what it wanted.

So since then, when I’m alone or confused or rattled and I can’t focus on anything, I now listen to the random wishes that pop up in my head, and as long as they aren’t hurtful, I do my best to follow them. They’ve all been sort of silly, like I want a chocolate truffle or I want to take a surfing lesson or I want to go read in the park or I want to get a ukulele. But these little things that are so easy to grant help ground me, and let me trust my inner self, and eventually the wishes started getting bigger, like I want a new job or I want to move to New York or I want to go on a solo road trip. And Im learning to trust the voice and just let it take me where it wants. And so far, everything has been wonderful. So, perhaps, this could work for you as well.
posted by umwhat at 5:35 PM on November 27, 2018 [19 favorites]

After I got divorced, here's what I did for the first year (maybe, as a rubric, it will help you):

1) Never ate out at the same restaurant twice (wanted to get accustomed to trying more new things)
2) Ate alone on purpose
3) Went to movies alone on purpose
4) When I stayed home with my doggo instead of going out, I spoiled myself rotten with the softest pjs and the best sheets and the best lighting and the best bath lotions and shampoos and books to read
5) When someone invited me out, I made myself go. I made some incredible friends that year.
6) If there was an event happening at a library or a meetup that had a high chance of including people who were creative and well read and interesting, I went.
7) If I was disappointed, I chalked it up to how things sometimes are
8) If I was afraid for the future or mad or sad or any of the above all at once, I cried my eyes out and clung to my pillow
9) If I wanted to have sex, I'd go on a date and decide if the other person was good enough for sex for the night even if I didn't like them long term and yeah, we had sex and then I went home and the next morning I ate delicious food
10) I went to the museum when I wanted to
11) I went to the farmer's market when I wanted to and I bought that too expensive bread
12) When I found myself dating people with the intention of a "do over" at that life plan that didn't work out, I stopped, because there isn't such thing as a "do over" when it comes to such things
13) I let myself stare at the void. I talked to the void.
14) I let myself get bored.
15) I made a podcast with a best friend. I wrote a totally unpublishable book. I learned how to paint my own nails on both hands. I took up painting--like abstract painting--for realz.
16) I took pictures of the world I live in.
17) I wrote letters to friends. I called people I had neglected.
18) I offered myself grace.
19) I grew plants from seeds and half of them died and I accidentally infested my room with flies and then I killed all the flies and saved some of the plants.
20) I read Co-dependent No More by Melody Beattie and then I was as nice to myself as I have always been to the people I loved.
21) I went on a vacation by myself and did whatever I wanted every single day.

And then, years later, I realized my life belonged to me. And even though I have a partner again, my life will always belong to me.

You are approaching a renaissance, if you want it. Have fun. xo
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:09 PM on November 27, 2018 [74 favorites]

I like Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ book “Designing Your Life.” I found that they take into account more practical things like the idea that there are different kinds of utility or value for different tasks/activities. Lots of exercises and I think good for thinking about the various possibilities without either locking you down or feeling impossible.
posted by tangaroo at 7:59 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have read all the books recommended above and the one I like best, that was most useful and accessible is still Wishcraft by Barbara Sher. Originally written in the 70's, the published and updated book is easily found on Amazon... But she has a free pdf of the original draft on her website (just google it). I find her exercises were more useful and the examples more relatable. This is "life design", about figuring out who you are, what you want, and different ways to get there.

You may also like the list journals by Moorea Seal (maybe not the happiness one...), and I just ordered a meditation journal for my SIL by Alex Elle that looks really lovely.

Lastly, two books I've read over and over are:
Transitions: Making sense of life's changes by William Bridges
Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

I can't remember where I read it, but the advice was to forget about being happy and focus on meaning - there are other things we can choose to value over "happy". Content, useful, meaningful, etc.

Lastly, I know what you mean in your last paragraph but no not really - there is no multiple choice test that is going to tell you this stuff. It's messy. All of these recommendations are going to ask you, in various ways, what makes you happy. There is no path (or there are infinite paths?) and we are all just winging it. Start small.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:15 AM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hi Fig, sending you all the hugs!

Here are some threads I have liked in the past that might help:
Questions right other similar things to help me get to know myself
Everyone's Got One...Except Me
posted by ellieBOA at 3:26 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Recipe for contentment: don't overthink it. Just do your best to find something to do, something to look forward to, and someone who loves you.
posted by flabdablet at 3:40 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I started doing this Daily Q&A shortly before separating. It asks me the same question each date for five years. I'm in the home stretch now and it will be a valuable record of five years with a lot of change in my life.
posted by Kwine at 5:31 AM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

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