How to find your truth
Autumn 2005, 2nd year in college: it’s 3:00am and I’m longboarding around campus, thinking. For months I’ve been miserable. No good reason to be miserable either. Good scholarship, friends I love, new girlfriend, high marks in my classes, invited to more parties than I have a desire to attend.
I should be counting my blessings. But I’m not. Something’s missing from my life. Something’s really missing and it feels horrible.
As I’m skating around campus, it hits me: I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be a student. What I really want is to see the world.
When I realize this, I feel energized. I need to make this realization a reality before I chicken out. It’s 4:00am now. I’m behind my laptop writing an email to my parents, telling them that I’m going to study abroad and then drop out and travel.
Several months later: I’m on a jet flying to China. I’m utterly terrified, but feeling truly, and deeply alive.
When you were born, unless your parents, community, or culture were very precocious, you inherited a set of norms and behaviors that would go on to consciously and unconsciously shape every millimeter of your being.
As you grew and matured, those norms shaped the decisions you made and how you interacted with the world. In fact, they continue to do so today, not just for you, but for all of us.
Some of those norms make a lot of sense: brush your teeth twice a day, try to be nice to other people, wear clothing that protects you from the elements.
But most of the norms we’ve inherited are are complete BS:
- Sit quietly and listen to things you don’t care about while the teacher lectures for 6 hours a day for the first 20 years of your life
- Worry about what people you don’t know or respect think of you
- Color inside the lines
- Pursue material goods above and beyond what you need or even truly desire
- Watch the news every day after work
Why do I mention this? Because I need you to see the strings that manipulate all of us. The norms of society, the way we’ve been raised, the people around us, the media we’re exposed to, the culture we live in, for the most part they distance us from ourselves. They distance us from our truth. Once you see this, even just a bit, then you can begin regaining your power over yourself and finding your truth.
Here’s what I believe: every single person has a truth at the core of them, but the norms and behaviors of society make accessing that truth difficult.
Your truth is something that you would love to do with your life and something that you would be really good at if you dedicated a bit of time each day to working on.
For a small number of people it’s really easy to find your truth. For these people, it just sort of occurs to them and they never veer off course. One of my close friends knew he wanted to be a lawyer when he was 14. Today, he’s an award-winning lawyer in CT and very happy.
For most of us, myself included, finding our truth isn’t that easy. We might have ideas about what our truth may be, but it’s not entirely clear because the norms we’ve inherited have obscured it, or made our truth so difficult to pursue that we quietly try to ignore it.
Imagine that your truth is that you want to create beautiful hand-woven baskets. Pursuing that is legit hard. There aren’t tons of avenues to learn how to weave baskets (or at least not that I’m aware of) and even if you get really good at it, it’s hard to make a living selling baskets.
Or imagine that your truth is that you want to lead women’s empowerment workshops, but you’re afraid of public speaking and not confident in your own ability to guide people.
In these cases, it’s easier to just ignore your truth, than it is to risk living it. You tell yourself that maybe you’ll pursue it when you retire or in some indefinite future.
And that logic, that logic which is deeply deeply normal to all of us, is completely toxic. Anything that keeps you away from yourself, is a bad idea.
I want you to find that thing that’s true to you and pursue it. That’s the only way you’re going to meaningfully and dramatically change the world. That’s the only way you’re going to feel fully alive.
Finding your truth requires a bit of finesse. Your truth can be a moving target. What felt true to me at 19 when I dropped out of school is no longer true to me now at 28. It was just a necessary stepping-stone on the hidden path that is emerging before me.
But here’s the good thing: finding your truth is possible for everyone, and there are a few simple tools that will help you.
Three tools for finding your truth
1) Create space in your life
Most of the time our lives are filled to the brim: wake up to the alarm, work, work, work, a few drinks in the evening, some form of entertainment/relaxation, the “whoa how did it get so late?” moment, and then back to bed so that you can repeat again tomorrow.
If you’re lucky there are a few people you love along for the ride.
This pace, this is an inherited cultural norm. But do you notice what’s missing?
Time just where you are alone with yourself without pressure or distraction. Time for your truth to slip into your conscious thought.
Sure, we watch a few episodes of “Parks and Recreation” by ourselves sometimes (or at least I do), and we get lonely from time to time (or is that just me again?), but that’s not it.
What you need is pure space just for you to feel and think without constraint or pressure or distraction. Creating quiet space for yourself allows you to connect to your truth without the norms of society poisoning the well.
Doing this can be hard. We aren’t always comfortable with ourselves. It’s easier to stay distracted.
Despite the difficulty, find time for yourself. Schedule it into your calendar if you need to. If you don’t know your truth right now, you wont find it by continuing to do what you’ve been doing.
A few things I’ve done to create space in my life (all of these work really well for me):
Morning pages – this is an idea from Julia Cameron’s excellent book, “The Artists Way.” Each morning, first thing when you wake up, hand write three pages of stream of consciousness. No more than three pages, no less. You just do it. It’s ok if it’s mostly drivel. Over time, you’ll notice patterns and stumble upon truths. It takes me about twenty minutes.Morning pages will help get the clutter out of your mind and clear your vision. If you review them from time to time, you’ll start to see yourself.
Interview yourself -a technique that I am extremely fond of for emerging leaders because it had a huge influence on my life and leadership style. Ask yourself broad, open ended questions like, “what would I do if I had six months to live” or, “What would I do if I had $100,000,000?” and then answer the questions honestly.
This works best if you either speak the answers out loud or write them with pen and paper. Doing so forces you to actually answer the questions. A lot of times when we quietly think abut the answers to a question, it feels like we’ve come to a full conclusion but if you try to explain your answer aloud or in writing, you’ll notice that there are still gaps.
If this technique interests you, you can join my mailing list here and receive an exclusive article that includes high level questions and an in-depth explanation of how to interview yourself.
Solo travel – this is my favorite method for creating space in my life. I like to go out into the world and explore. When you do this, you strip away everything that’s normal to you and many of the norms that society makes us abide by.
What’s left, is you.
If you’re honest with yourself and you give yourself enough time and freedom from distraction, your truth will show up. This travel can be anything from a camping trip over the weekend, to exploring a new country, to moving to a new city.
2) If you are in your head, return to the physical world. If you are in the physical world, return to your head.
Humans are part physical, part mental. The vast majority of us favor one part over the other. Personally, I spend most of my time in my head.
If you favor one part of yourself, be sure that you are still engaging the other part. To fail to do so is to neglect half of the human experience.
When you engage both parts regularly you become more whole, more aware, and more intuitive. I know that sounds woo-woo and new agey, but you just can’t live a full life while neglecting half of yourself.
If you’re a mental person, like me, find some physical activities that engage you. A few that I like: improv comedy, surfing, sailing, weight lifting, and I’m hoping to learn an instrument this year.
You want to feel your body interacting with and influencing the space and objects around you.
If you’re a physical person, find some mental activities that engage you. A few I’d suggest: reading (audiobooks are fine), doing sudoku or a crossword puzzle, listening to an engaging podcast (NPR’s new one, Invisibalia is pretty cool), or reading a long form magazine (like the New Yorker).
Engaging with both the physical and mental will strengthen you and it will help you find your truth.
3) Ask your friends and family what your truth is, go consult a psychic, attend a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or learn to juggle while eating an apple. Whatever. Do something crazy and new!
The point here is to shake it up and expose yourself to new experiences. These new experiences will generate new thoughts and feelings, which can guide you to your truth.
Do I believe your friends know you better than you know yourself? Nope. But maybe Mike will suggest that you take up the ukulele which will make you realize that you have a secret desire to be a rock star.
Do I believe that a palm reader or psychic can really predict the future? Absolutely not. But still, they are pretty fun and they can get you to think about yourself in a different way. A psychic once got lucky and told me that I’m not fully applying myself (which was true at the time, though I didn’t realize it). That realization went on to trigger an epiphany for me.
If you’re trying to find your truth, shake it up and expose yourself to new stuff. Give yourself new inputs. This will brighten your life, make you a more engaging conversationalist and help you find your truth.
How you know you’ve found it
Ahh, the ever important question, how will I know when I’ve found it?
The simple but irritating answer: you’ll know it when you find it.
The better but more complex answer: there are a lot of physical indicators that you’ve found your truth. Personally, I get goose bumps all over my upper body when I’m on the right track.
A more jarring indicator is that you get flooded with energy when you think about your truth. When you’re thinking of something and you get super excited and your head is spinning with ideas and dreams and possibilities, you’re on the right track.
If after a few days, you still feel psyched about the idea, you’ve found your truth.
Really Important: STAY OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY
Here’s what happens to most people I know: they actually find their truth but then they get in their own way.
Or perhaps more accurately: they allow society’s norms to get in their way. They think:
- This wont make money
- I’m not smart enough
- My family will judge me
- This is silly and not appropriate for someone as (fill in the blank) me
- I wont succeed
- …Or a million other BS excuses as to why they can’t live their truth.
Look, once you’ve found your truth and you have that feeling, find your courage and get out of your way.
Trust yourself. Don’t trust the norms that have been conditioned into you. I know that trusting yourself can be terrifying. That’s ok.
You’ll possibly have to go off the beaten path to live your truth. That’s ok. Every person who you admire was called a lunatic before they were called a luminary. In fact, if people don’t think I’m crazy before I start a project, I get worried that I’m on the wrong path.
Allow your truth to evolve
Finally, realize this: many people have a lot of small truths they need to work through before they hit their big truth. I’m one of those people. When I was 9 my truth was that I wanted to be a pro magician. Then when I was 18 that was no longer true to me. I wanted to normal.
Don’t worry about whether you’ve found your capital T truth or your lowercase t truth. It doesn’t matter. Your truth can evolve.
And maybe you wont even find your lower case t truth at first. That’s ok. Find something that is 80% of the way there, 80% exciting or 80% engaging and pursue that. It will help you find your path and if you decide you hate it or that it’s not for you, that’s valuable information in and of itself.
This will be some of the most important work you’ll ever do as an individual and will set you down the path of becoming an authentic and good leader. One who operates in the flow and draws people towards her automatically.
I want this series on leadership mastery to be something that is actionable for you and not theoretical. In each article you’ll find a homework section. Obviously, the assignments are not mandatory and I will not be assigning you a grade. But if you’re serious about upping your leadership ability, I suggest doing at least one or two of the homework assignments each month.
- Create space in your calendar for yourself and use that space to find your truth. This can be Sunday mornings when you go to the coffee shop to journal for an hour or two, it can be a weekend camping by yourself, or a month traveling the world solo.The important part is that you find dedicated space just for you so that you can experience life without the clutter of modernity distracting you from yourself. This may be hard at first. Don’t let the difficulty or fear stop you.
- If you haven’t found your truth (and for most people, myself included, it takes a little while because of all the norms that have been forced upon us) then try engaging the part of yourself that you don’t normally engage.
You’re a physical person who spends your time building houses and playing sports? Go journal and meditate for a bit. Or read a book. I’d recommend starting with Ready Player One, that’s a great book.
You’re a mental person who spends most of your time thinking and contemplating? Go on a hike and admire nature. If you’re lucky enough to live near the water take a surfing lesson. Join a dodge ball league.
- When you’re exploring your truth, pay attention to your energy levels and excitement. When you notice your energy and excitement levels have gone up, keep chasing that idea, you’re moving towards your truth!
Sometimes you’ll need a bit of extra information to get you past your blocks or to kick into full gear….
Struggling to let your guard down and be vulnerable? Work on your confidence.
Afraid to leave the beaten path? This will help. Realize that you’re not alone.
Want more on living your truth? Check out Kamal Ravikant’s excellent book, “Live your truth.”