The hardest questions to answer aren’t the ones anyone else will ask you.
In conversation, we tend to learn about each other by asking what the other person does (their job) where they’re from (their current or home town) or what’s been happening in their lives lately. We use these questions to scratch the surface of our identities. If we aren’t careful, we sum ourselves up the way other people do: by our jobs, our locations, and our current circumstances.
Simple questions like these can feel irritating, particularly at certain points in our lives. It’s never fun to be a senior in college and have everyone ask you what you’re “going to do next.” Why? Because it’s probing at something deeper, and more unsettling. If you have an easy answer, you might not have to confront the truth.
The two hardest questions about your life are the questions you must ask yourself.
Yet most people don’t, which is why they stay exactly where they are.
Most of us know when we’re playing whack-a-mole with the problems in our lives. Few of us are truly surprised to learn that our binge drinking, toxic relationships, maxed out credit cards, shopping addictions, or constant anxiety are symptoms of something far deeper, and far darker. We block out the truth because we don’t know what to do with it.
Answering the two hardest questions can fix that.
First: Who are you?
Most people think they know the answer to this.
Most people identify themselves by their culture, their upbringing, or their profession.
Others take a more esoteric stance, identifying themselves as some version of being at one with humanity. They dive a bit deeper than surface-level identity.
When we’re struggling, it’s because some part of our identity has become compromised. We’ve lost it, changed it, or disrupted it in some way. Often, this comes after big life changes for which we haven’t mentally caught up (we haven’t built a new identity around the new self). Or, it happens when we start to adopt a limiting self-belief — we’ve told ourselves we “aren’t enough” or “don’t deserve anything good.”
“Who you are” is a mix of what you like and don’t, what you value and don’t, what you prioritize and don’t, what you prefer and don’t.
That’s pretty much it.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do you like?
- What do you dislike?
- What do you value?
- What do you not value?
- What do you like to do?
- What do you not like to do?
- When do you feel your best?
- When do you feel your worst?
- Who do you like to be around?
- Who do you not like to be around?
If you find that you don’t have a clear grasp on any one of those questions, you must find out. Try things: foods, music, and new types of people. Travel, if you can. Read. Explore. Trial and error is the medium through which you figure out what you like and what you don’t, and most people think they dislike what they haven’t tried.
Eventually, you will start to piece together a picture of who you really are.
While this identity can evolve, its basic facts will remain consistent throughout your life. You come to find yourself by aligning your daily routine with activities, work, and relationships that support your natural inclinations.
Any preference you’ve picked up by proximity (indoctrination, conditioning, culture, etc.) that is not authentic will not stand the test of time. It will phase out when you give yourself the chance to let it go. But if you’ve loved the outdoors since you were a child and love them still today, there’s a good chance that piece of you will endure.
Second, ask yourself: What are you here to do?
This question is an extension of the first.
To answer the second question, think about this:
- What are you good at?
- What do you love to do?
- Where could an intersection of those fit in the current market?
That’s pretty much it.
When we are able to look critically at who we are, what we like, and what we feel particularly motivated by, we discover that what we are here to do is not elusive.
Answering the two hardest questions matters because when you are clear on who you are and what you are here to do with your life, everything else can sort of fall by the wayside.
When you know who you are, you are no longer identified with what happened to you.
At least, you don’t have to anymore.
You now have a true, everlasting identity that does not need to be influenced or belittled by one single experience. You regain your autonomy and your power. You realize that you can still create a life that is an authentic expression of who you are. You do not need to be defined by anyone else’s ideas. In that, you are free.
When you know what you are here to do, you become resilient.
You are able to withstand discomfort to far greater degrees.
You lose your fear. When you are absolutely clear about what you are here to do, you are willing to risk things. You are willing to do things that used to scare you because the power of your conviction is telling you what you will gain is far greater than what you might lose.
This is why the two hardest questions are so healing, and so transforming.
They allow us to defy the temporary circumstances of our lives in pursuit of something far greater.
And the truth is that these questions aren’t actually “hard” in and of themselves. They are only challenging because they are not readily taught to us. We do not receive guidance on this type of self-discovery, and so we remain lost.
But now that you have it, use it.
Know that the two hardest questions are both elusive and so obvious, you won’t be able to believe you ever couldn’t answer them.
Know that they are at once timeless and yet adaptable, evolving as you do.
Know that they are wholly yours and yours alone — nobody can tell you what the answers are and aren’t.
Finally, know that they are always accessible to you. When life hands you a big change or unexpected challenge, you can always return to your core understanding of the two questions to guide you forward into a future that may be better than you ever even imagined.