“Who the hell are you?”

No answer came, because the answer was unknown. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and was hit with such force that I almost staggered. When did I lose myself? At what point in my life did I lose track of me? I could no longer even tell you what I valued, liked or where my joy came from. It was all a blank.

This moment became my quest. I needed to find myself, my authentic self, the true me…the person I know.

It happens over time. If we’re unaware, our authenticity becomes eroded, until that moment occurs when we discover that we are adrift.

We make slight changes in our behavior to please someone else. We swallow our likes and dislikes. We don’t communicate our needs. The fear of confrontation or disappointing someone else overrides our own judgment and begins the process of diminishing who we are. This is how it happened for me. I constantly put the needs of others in front of my own — to keep the peace. I didn’t like rocking the boat, but the cost was greater than I thought.

My journey to rediscovering myself was like unwrapping a gift, and although I believed I knew what was under the layers, I was still surprised by what lay inside. Honestly, it was not easy, I had to undo years of habits, learn to set healthy boundaries and treat myself with compassion and grace.

It began as a simple “I love you” as I looked each morning at my reflection in the mirror. I whispered sweet nothings to myself, such as “you look gorgeous” and “you got this girl.” Once I felt strong and worthy, I embarked upon my quest to discover who I am, what I believed in, and why I was put on this Earth.

I experimented with new experiences, saying yes to every opportunity that came my way. Yes, I’ll take a welding class. Try archery? You bet! Kayaking down a creek? Why not. These adventures taught me so much about what I am capable of and what I really like. Squid? Not so much.

Each day opened the way for greater exploration and discovery. I signed up for different types of art classes and even gained the confidence to enter my own paintings in a juried show. I stopped wearing all grey and black, injecting my wardrobe with color, which I adore. I had a severe phobia about being seen and tried to make myself invisible, but as I reconnected with my authentic self, this fear subsided, and I emerged, ready to be adorned like a butterfly.

At the beginning of my quest for my authentic self, I lived with the intentions of discovery and acceptance. My daily goal was to make choices that pleased me (while not harming others), try new things, push myself outside my comfort zone and accept whatever I learned about myself in the process.

I asked myself key questions and reflected on the answers:

What do I value?
What makes me laugh?
What brings me joy?
Who do I love to be with?
What are my natural gifts and what do I struggle with?
What do I believe in?
What is my purpose?

Each question revealed new layers, which fueled a need to learn more. I’d ask my friends what they thought my strengths were and their answers unlocked new areas to explore. I learned that we all face the same fears, that our need to be accepted by others can lead to not accepting ourselves, that compassion and vulnerability are the keys to connecting with our soul.

I also learned that I’m a damn fine archer, that I like only certain Indian foods, that if I don’t connect with nature daily I am a beast, and that laughing loudly is not something to be ashamed of, but a gift that encourages others to join in.

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