This Wednesday: Quiz: Do you know yourself? It’s surprisingly hard.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day (or quiz day).
Today: Quiz: Do you know yourself? It’s surprisingly hard.

My friend Michael Melcher, a career coach who used to practice law, just wrote an excellent (and quite funny) book called The Creative Lawyer; he also has a terrific blog. It’s aimed at helping lawyers find more job satisfaction – whether within law or outside of law – but it’s also a valuable resource for anyone trying to understand himself or herself better.

In doing the Happiness Project, I’ve been repeatedly struck by how hard it is to “Be Gretchen.” It’s oddly difficult even to appreciate my own interests. I have to remind myself of one of my most important Secrets of Adulthood: just because something is fun for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s fun for me – and vice versa. (See left column for all the Secrets of Adulthood.)

I’ve noticed that people often assume that everyone enjoys the same activities that they enjoy, because they believe those activities are inherently enjoyable – e.g., they enjoy arranging flowers because arranging flowers is just a fun thing to do. No! Not so.

Or else people assume that they in fact do enjoy what they think they SHOULD enjoy – e.g., they enjoy going to the theater, because going to the theater is a fun thing to do. Nope! Not true.

Here’s a quiz, lightly adapted from The Creative Lawyer, to help you figure out your interests. Not what you WISH interested you, but what ACTUALLY interests you.

1. What part of the newspaper do you read first?

2. What are three books you’ve read in the past year?

3. As a child, what did you do in your free time?

4. What’s a goal that has been on your list for a few years?

5. What do you actually do with your free time?

6. What types of activities energize you?

7. What famous people intrigue you?

You need to pay close attention to yourself. Skiing, drinking wine, going to concerts, eating pasta, gardening, shopping…all these activities are fun for some people, all these are chores for some people. Like me.

The better you understand your true likes and dislikes, the better able you are to make decisions – in work and leisure – that will make you happy.

The next step, then, is to act on your interests. For example, once I started paying close attention to myself, I realized that I’m fascinated by the subject of obesity. Just what is causing the dramatic rise in obesity? There doesn’t seem to be a way to act on this interest, other than to read articles and books on the topic, but I’m on the look-out. After all, I started a children’s literature reading group; maybe there’s some listserv or something I could join.

Gosh, I love reading Seth Godin.

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Nicole

    I’m always interested when you write about your “Be Gretchen” commandment, because I wonder how you balance this commandment with the desire/need for self-improvement. One could look at your other 11 commandments and say that by telling yourself to act on these statements, presumably things you don’t do regularly without prodding and reminding, you are no longer being yourself.

  • Now that you mention obesity, I remember that I’m intrigued with cults. Perhaps I’ll do something about that someday. Writing about one would be better than joining it, I think. 😉

  • I’m so glad you wrote another entry touching on “be yourself.” Earlier this year, you wrote something similar, which prompted me to think about how I don’t enjoy the outdoors as much as others think I should. Sometimes I let myself feel guilty about that, until I remember that, hey, it’s ok not to be the outdoors type! (Especially when I have such a nice indoors to spend time in.)
    Thanks for the fun quiz and for prompting me to recall this great advice.

  • Michelle McKay

    If you’re interested in obesity, check out, a program developed as part of Dr. Heather McKay’s research. She is a Professor in the Orthopedics Department at the University of British Columbia, and arguably one of the world’s leading authorities on child obesity and what to do about it (and also my aunt, I’m proud to say!)
    One quick interesting tidbit – her research leads her to believe that if soda were suddenly eradicated from the planet, half the obesity battle would be won.

  • Cee

    Somewhat off-topic, but – there are many people who believe that there has not, in fact, been a dramatic rise in obesity. Check out Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth (, and similar books recommended by Amazon, or blogs such as Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose (

  • Gretchen,
    I have a little card that I would like to send you. I think you will really like it. Is there any address I can send it to? A PO Box or an office or something? You can email me if you prefer.

  • Gretchen,
    I couldn’t agree more.
    Getting comfortable with who you really are on a very deep basis can take a very long time, depending on how disconnected you are from your true self. It’s almost never something that can be done on one weekend retreat to “find yourself.” It’s something I work on each and every day.
    The good news about this time investment is that it allows you to really grow in the relationship with yourself. It’s not a quick fix, but it is a true grounding in who you are, what you believe and what’s important to you.
    To get to know myself better, I must schedule some time each day to spend with myself, think about issues in my life about which I am not clear to work on clarifying your feelings, and keep a journal about my discovery of myself, either by journaling to gain clarity, writing articles and reports, and blogging.

  • This is weird. I can see that people have commented, but I’m not able to read them. That’s why I’m not responding.
    Following one of my most useful Secrets of Adulthood (see left column), I’m now going to turn my computer on and off a few times. That often fixes a glitch.

  • Ah, it worked! Now I can read the comments.
    To Nicole’s point — I think about this issue very often. I was struck by something Flannery O’Connor wrote in a letter, “Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better,” and by something W.H. Auden wrote, “Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”
    That’s part of why “Be Gretchen” is so hard. I have to figure out what parts I can and should change, and what parts I should accept and embrace. A fascinating issue.
    I’ve found that a great way to cultivate “an atmosphere of growth” is to become a mini-expert on something. Yes, read everything on cults, it’s very satisfying to feel yourself really get a grip on a topic. I read everything I could about St. Therese of Lisieux, and that mastery, as well as the knowledge itself, has made me happy.
    Now I’m off to check out the links about obesity! thanks for those.

  • Naomi

    Can I add that the work of “knowing yourself” is not a one-time activity? We change across life and it can be just as painful (if not more so) to be trying to force ourselves to do an activity we *used* to love but which has lost its charm as it can be trying to make ourselves like “what everyone else likes”. When I was in my 20s, I got really energised by big parties and crowds of people. In the past few years I’ve increasingly found that I get my energy from time spent alone. Life is so much better now I’ve stopped trying to make myself do that thing that “old Naomi” liked to do, and just relaxed into Being Naomi (as she is right now).

  • I guess I know myself. The quiz was a piece of cake. But then I have more time than the average person to ponder just such things. My struggle at the moment is to accept that I will never be anything even close to a size six again. I feel healthier as a size 12/14, and am determined to buy clothes that fit me now. A harder resolution than I ever dreamed.

  • I really liked the questions! They got me excited. Great post! I think that everyone knows a lot about themselves. But, I also believe that people are in a constant state of change and anything can affect who they are and who they are about to become.

  • Catherine

    I found the quiz so depressing, I realised I don’t think I’ve even read one complete book, I always seem to forget about them, even if I’m enjoying it, they take me ages to finish. Of course maybe that’s ok, I’m a slow reader, for some reason this is something I feel bad about, maybe because my family are all fast readers and read all the time. I sort of feel like I don’t fit in as well unless I really like books. Hmm, never thought of it like that before.
    Also realised I don’t do anything with my free time, sometimes I try things that I feel I’d enjoy, but then when it comes down to it I don’t enjoy them. This leads me to believe that I don’t enjoy anything at all, which I’m sure can’t be true.
    I just saw the end of the last post, “I think that everyone knows a lot about themselves” – I think this is probably true, what people don’t know is how to like that person. If you don’t do and like all the things that society leads you to believe are the right things then I guess you feel like you’re not such a ‘good’ person, at least that’s how I feel anyway.
    Well, I have to say that I’m really glad I found this site, woken me up to a whole new way of thinking about myself. Thank you.

  • The start of freedom and the realization that you aren’t “the one who thinks”.
    The moment when you start observing who thinks, an higher level of consciousness is active.
    You account to yourself for being of a huge realm of an intelligence that goes beyond the thought and it is only the smallest aspect of that intelligence.
    You understand the that all the things really important, as beauty, love, creativity, happiness, interior peace, are born outside the mind.
    I always thought the outer world is only a mirror of what we are inside, but now I feel the desire to explore the infinite inside us.
    We are sometimes afraid of looking inside us, because we identify ourselves with the outer world, we feel that information, emotions overwhelm us, but it’s only a small test to overcome and to find our inner treasure and to start a fantastic adventure.
    The fear is born because we derive our identity from the world. This is the realm of ego that needs to be always reassured and some appreciations. If we identify ourselves with the outer world the trust of us comes from what the others says about us. So we spend our life at the mercy of the wages between moments of glory and depression. Understand that the outer world is only a ripple of the ocean makes feel us fundamental.
    We sometimes need dramatic events in the life to go beyond the appearances. The truth, at levels deeper and deeper, is always and only inside us and in no other where.
    The western society is based on the fundamental mistake “cogito ergo sum” according to the man is sure to be cause he’s a subject who has doubt, so he thinks.
    Now we analyze the thought. It is formed by everything have been taught us, by the environment where we live, by the hopes that we have, so by our past, by our believes.
    The thought let us repeat the way of minimal resistance and live in a comfortable zone, maybe with different characters and backgrounds. In other case it push us in a future where we can foresee what will happen. Seldom we are relaxing in the deep ocean of today, but it’s here and now where we can find really us, beyond the reason.
    To reach again the consciousness of the Be and live in this situation of instinctive realization of union is the flash of inspiration.
    Inspiration means find our true nature beyond the name and the form.
    The inability to perceive this state of connection from the origin to the illusion of separation from ourselves and from the world around us.
    We think of us as isolated fragments and the interior and exterior struggles become an habit.
    Nowadays our problem is not to succeed in giving up think of, we bear compulsive thought but we don’t understand because according to us it’s normal.
    This endless noise doesn’t let us live in our interior calm and it creates a wall, realized by the reason, made of concepts, labels, images, words and judgments, that stops every relationship.
    This wall of mind creates the illusion of “you” and “other” totally separated, forgetting our intimate union with everything exist, that overcomes physical appearances. […]

  • yeah so many people talk about being present NOW, that’s really good idea. It’s take a lot of focus to do that, not as simple as saying it.
    Forgive your past, more hopes in your futures. Than all what human natures must do for the happiness, right?