The Social Chameleon’s Guide to Self-Discovery

I wasn’t one of those kids with a strong commandeering personality: the ones who seized what they wanted or could say “no” without a flicker of remorse or moment of doubt.

I had a bubbly and adorable spirit, which was often confused for a strong personality. However, beneath my carefree persona was an incredibly insecure individual. I was the type to constantly apologize for anything and everything, and was chided at home for being a day dreamer.

I was also a shape-shifter, who assumed the qualities of the people in my immediate environment. Every aspect of my personality was changeable: from the way I wrote, walked and talked, to the way I wore my clothes and hair. As a result, “who I was” was not clear-cut. Being mutable also meant that I could not easily understand what I uniquely bring into the world.

Unfortunately, many of these traits have persisted into my adult life. However, they are no longer all-consuming as they were when I was a child. The difference now is that I am more self-reflective and selective of what I incorporate into my persona, and I know that this experience is not unique to me. My self-reflection has led to some insights that I believe might be helpful to others who are natural social chameleons.

Finding yourself, or getting to know yourself better, matters. It could be the difference between a job promotion or stagnation, successful or failed relationship, and satisfying or subpar life. My developing self-awareness means that I’m better able to understand why I am acting a certain way at any given time and shape my future behavior to align more with my goals.

Contrary to many self-help books, this doesn’t have to occur right before you sleep or just after you wake up. It can happen in real time, in the middle of a conversation. For example, one time I was having dinner with a Williams friend who asked me if I found one of our classmates attractive. I told him the individual was too heavy to be my type, to which he responded, “I didn’t think you were the type to judge someone based on their physical characteristics.” His statement surprised me. It immediately told me how I projected myself in the world and how I am consequently perceived. To my mind, I had always been viewed as inviting and open. In that moment, I knew that my friend was speaking to a certain quality buried somewhere in me, and my job was to dig deep and bring it out.

I do not believe that we become new persons as we mature; instead, we grow into our true selves, into who we really are at our core. We are born with everything that we need in this life. Therefore, growing up is about unearthing and cultivating the individual buried deep within us, and allowing him to breathe, live and be.

I took the insight from my conversation with my friend as a lesson that I needed to incorporate into my growth and development. Now when similar situations arise, I am open, take note and consider how to integrate that newfound awareness. I have learned to be a student of my own life and being.

Studying the people I look up to and the qualities that I admire about them is another way I am learning who I truly am. This practice helps to inform us about our own value system. When you find yourself admiring someone, ask yourself what you value about that person and how you can cultivate that same quality in your life.

Throwing one’s self into new situations is another route to self-discovery. When I started traveling more, meeting new people, trying new things and gaining new experiences, I discovered new elements of myself. My responses to the experiences, viewpoints and stories people shared illuminated my value system and where I stand on certain issues. Once you leave your bubble and go out into the world, you quickly realize that there are multiple approaches to living life and no approach is necessarily better than another. Most importantly, when you travel, you understand that we are all the same and that, fundamentally, we’re all looking for connection and a sense of belonging.

The latest strategy I’m using to know more about myself is role-playing. Sometimes, I like to imagine a possible scenario, like fighting with my housemate. In the first imagined scenario, I respond negatively to the altercation. I then ask myself “Would I really do that? Is that what I stand for?” Most of the time, the answer is “No.” Then, I imagine how I would prefer to react if a similar situation arose in real life. By reflecting on these imagined scenarios, I learn more about myself, and most importantly, what I value.

There is a myriad of ways to self-discovery. These are but a few I have discovered so far in my own journey and have used to learn more about myself and who I am. What are some of the ways you have used to come to understand yourself better?

Thobo Mogojwe ’15 has worked in public relations, as well as at the Clinton Health Access Initiative. You can follow him on Twitter at @acupwithtea.