Three Self-Discovery Questions for Creating Vision and Purpose
Personality assessments and tests can help facilitate discussions and give us a common language for understanding each other, and help us avoid hiring (or marrying) the wrong people. But if you want to really know who you are, here are a few questions to ask yourself that have no multiple choice answers.
Bonnie from marketing was peering at me curiously while I made a second pot of coffee.
“You’re definitely a winter,” she said.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Your colors,” she said. “You ever get them done?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t even know what that means.”
“Ohhhh you have to do it,” she said. “Lana and I had our colors done. It changes everything.”
Lana, the only other person in the marketing department, was rooting around for her fat-free yogurt. “I’m an autumn,” she told the inside of the fridge.
It was 1997, and I was in my early 20s, fresh out of college, working as an executive assistant at an MIT think tank and didn’t know a damn thing. I was wearing an outfit masquerading as a suit that I bought for $50 at Contempo Casuals at the mall.
Bonnie and Lana had taken a shine to me since I started working there, the way people do when they believe you might be susceptible to their influence.
They were, after all, real career women. I was finally meeting them in the wild. They wore “smart” shoes and blouses that you couldn’t throw in the wash. They wore foundation. And blush. They weren’t beautiful; they were what my mother refers to as sharp, as in “That one, now, she’s sharp.” Someone who knew what she was doing, and who might cut a bitch if she needed to.
“So why does one get their colors done?” I asked. They were so glad I asked.
“Oh! Because then you don’t have to waste time and money buying the wrong things anymore. You know what colors work for you and that’s that,” said Bonnie, who almost always wore blue.
“I can’t tell you the number of beige sweaters I’ve given away to the Good Will,” Lana sighed.
Getting your colors done meant hiring a consultant to hold up different swatches of fabric to your face and make a judgment call. This had nothing to do with your astrological sign or your birthdate or even your temperament; just straight-up genes, hair, skin and eye color. It was all literally skin deep.
“You’re a winter,” she said, gesturing with her coffee mug. “Stick to jewel tones.”
The real reason we take a Buzzfeed quiz: We’re obsessed with learning about ourselves
The reason you get your colors done is the same reason you get your palm read or your chart done, or take a personality quiz. Chances are you’ve done Myers Briggs, Clifton Strengths, the Enneagram. You know your love language, your dosha, your Hogwarts House, which Golden Girl you are, and whether or not you’re a Carrie.
Every test also gives us some encoded language and metrics for deciphering, explaining, communicating with, and predicting ourselves and each other. We can blame it all on being an enneagram 6, or say things like, “Oh he’s a Sagittarius. That explains everything.”
All these things are helpful in giving us a lens and framework for understanding what makes at least part of us, and others, tick. They can be employed en masse to ensure that we don’t hire, date, or marry the wrong people.
We’ll never tire of any of this. We’re endlessly fascinated. We want to know who we really are.
There’s a limit to where the multiple choice questions can take us, however. At some point, quantitative hits a limit.
I’ve found qualitative endeavors open up even more fertile fields of discovery.
One of the most powerful ways to uncover more of your own mystery can’t be found inside of a measured quiz, but on the page — a blank page. That’s where the truth will out.
In the work I do with groups and in programs, I use writing prompts and a brief window of time to help people get at ideas, stories, and truths they might not otherwise. And definitely not if I gave them the whole rest of the day or the weekend to do it.
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The key is the urgency and the kind of prompt (neutral, open to interpretation) which gets the wheels turning fast.
To get very meta for a moment, this entire article is a response to a prompt I gave myself: “A time you discovered a bit more about who you are.”
And what story came to mind? Boom. Being in that Cambridge office in 1997.
I realize now that those two women from marketing were different from anyone else there. They were powerful and confident. In their mid 40s, and neither of them were married or had children.
They might have been considered a “type,” too.
Now that I think of it, everyone else in that small office was married with children and spouses — except for me and them.
But they must have known, in some way, that I was more like them than anyone else there. And if so, they were right; I still am.
They might have assumed that a cute kid like me, in her early 20s, would probably marry her college sweetheart and have kids. Nope!
More than two and a half decades later, I am the confident, opinionated, unmarried middle-aged professional who takes pride in her appearance and does as she pleases.
And Bonnie was right. I am a winter, through and through.
3 Questions to ask yourself to discover something new about you
Now it’s your turn.
Rather than ask you job interview questions (“What do you value?” “What are your greatest accomplishments?”), I’m going to give you prompts that trigger memories, ideas, images, and the goal here is not to rattle off some smart essay, but to actually use the act of writing itself to gain a perspective that perhaps you didn’t consider before.
1 | What’s one thing that you always swore was true — and then one day discovered it wasn’t? Where were you when you learned this? What did it feel like? Was it a relief? Was it heartbreaking? Did you laugh out loud? Set a timer for 3 mins and start writing.
2 | What’s the last item you lost? Maybe it was simple and annoying like your phone or a set of keys or an ID. Or, maybe it was something that had emotional significance — a favorite piece of jewelry, for instance. Pick something tangible, an actual thing (vs. the time you “lost your mind”). What did it look like, feel like? Draw on your senses to describe it. How did you feel when you realized it was gone? Was it recovered? What was the result of that, and have your feelings about it changed? Three minutes. Go.
3 | What’s one thing someone said to you that you never forgot? Maybe it was a biting piece of criticism, or the loveliest words you’d ever heard. Either way, they are tattooed in your memory. Maybe you’ll remember it now having not thought of it in years. Or, maybe you think about it every day. What is it, and how did it make you feel then, and now? How did it change how you saw them, or yourself? You know the drill. Set the timer.
…How was that? What came up? If you let yourself actually write without thinking too hard, thoughts will emerge that you really never might have considered or realized before. That’s the power of writing as reflection. You don’t have to know what you think to start writing about it.
Here’s what those questions can reveal:
Question #1 highlights the ability to recognize and change beliefs, or how you respond in the face of a shift in conviction. It can tell you a lot about what you value and trust, and may also have served as a crucial turning point, especially when you recognized that something in your life or perspective had changed, even if nothing looked different from the outside.
Question #2 draws your attention to a physical object, a possession, and so can reflect how you feel about an item, a person, or whatever it represents. Writing into the senses can be powerful, and help you relive a moment and a feeling. It can show you how attached, or unattached, you are to things, and what they mean to you.
Question #3 speaks to words that have had an impact on you. Regardless of who said it. You can recall the tone, the situation, the person, and it might be quite evocative. The fact that it is seared into memory says a lot about what you care about, and how you’ve changed. What made you mad then might make you laugh now. Or, perhaps the reverse.
It’s fascinating, isn’t it, to see what our own words reveal? Just the act of writing can open up entire volumes of thought and memory. Another great use of writing in this way is to identify and bust through blocks that are keeping you stuck. Especially if you don’t really know why.
This is just a tiny taste of the process I have guided hundreds of people through to gain insight into their life and free up blocks in their work. If you enjoyed it, you will love my program, Hard Reset: Rewrite the rules. Reclaim your power. — A program specifically designed to help you clear out the blocks. Learn more here.