Finding Your Real Self

An essay about how to rediscover the most unique - and best - version of who you are.

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5 tools to help you find yourself

Can you truly say that you have the same care-free mindset as the 10-year-old version of yourself? Running around the garden with little-to-no clothes on flinging mud around — not a care in the world — and completely comfortable in your own skin (even unaware of the the ability to feel inadequate).

If you can — then this essay isn’t for you. Congratulations. You have reached a level of self-esteem and awareness that I (and many others) can only dream of. If you answered the question above with a bit of hesitation, and you’re not sure where that ‘true’ version of you is, this might help.

After coming out of high school feeling like a dulled pencil (more on that later), and moving to a completely different part of the world for University, my eyes were opened to the diverse range of interesting people out there. These were people that were not afraid to be the most genuine version of themselves, without caring what people thought. I was jealous.

In contrast, I was shy, had extremely low self-confidence, and would mold myself to my environment to make sure I fitted in. Then, one day I had a nervous breakdown during a lecture.

One of my study mates said to me “It sounds like you are snoring while you work”. I was born with a cleft-palette which means I do have trouble breathing through my nose — so he was right. I remember going bright red and feeling a wave of heat wrap itself around my body as everyone around me looked my way. I started sweating and hyperventilating, and had to leave the lecture as my shirt became progressively more saturated. I left all my books in the lecture room and was too embarrassed to fetch them until everyone had left. I didn’t go back to campus that day. I decided it was time to do something. This couldn’t go on.

Over the last 6 years I have worked every single day at rediscovering the real me. And it has been the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve started putting my work into the world and have started building a tribe around me:

  • I’m nearly at 1k Medium followers after a few months of writing,
  • I started a newsletter which is currently in the process of being sold, that got up to 8.2k subscribers in 4 months,
  • I was hired as the CEO of a Fintech company (which I didn’t found), at the age of 25;
  • Most significant, for me, is I’m the go-to source for any advice on personal and business growth (entrepreneurship, mainly) in my friendship group.

This is an essay about how I got there, so that hopefully you can unlock your best self, and use it to your advantage too.

In the digital world we live in, with distractions just a smartphone notification away, attention is scarce and valuable.

When you’re trying to make progress as an individual, it is very difficult to do it alone. You need the people around you to ‘conspire’ to make that happen. And if they’re going to do that, you need to be front of mind. You need to have their attention.

There are two types of attention important to us in this context:

  1. An “in-your-face”, forced attention, or
  2. A “back-of-mind”, you’re the person for x, type of attention.

The second type of attention is garnered when you leave a lasting impression on someone. The best way to do that, in my experience, is to be an interesting person. Interesting people are remembered the same way great stories are remembered. And interesting people are genuine people. They’re not pretending to be anything other than what they truly are, and they have embraced the unique side to themselves as an asset. They’re embracing their 5-year-old self.

This article is about becoming a person that people remember, so that when an opportunity arises, you are front of mind.

Here are 5 tools you can use to unlock the interesting inside of you, and become the person that everyone leaves the conversation thinking about: I wish I was that interesting.

Tool 1: No Bullshit

I got caught in the middle of a fight between two friends in our friendship group the other day. It was nasty. There was a lot of under-handed, backstabbing going on and it was becoming divisive for our extended group of friends. People were having to pick sides and it was descending into a mess.

I was planning a trip at the time and it became very difficult to organize everything around this. I’d had enough. I spoke to both people individually, and then called them up and asked them to meet. They both didn’t know the other person was going to be there, but I didn’t let them leave when they realized.

We sat down and I laid it out to them. It was a complete “no bullshit” confrontation — this is the way it is, and it’s time to resolve this.

I surprised myself by how confident I was in handling the situation. I was also surprised by their response. They were both super appreciative of the transparency and clarity that I approached the situation with.

In a world where it is so easy to be faceless — hiding behind a screen — people appreciate openness and honesty. They appreciate a no-bullshit approach.

Do This

Next time you’re faced with a difficult situation where you feel uncomfortable — say exactly what you mean. Exercise your ‘no-bullshit’ muscle. Be the person that everyone describes with, “You always know where you stand with her”.

Tool 2: “Do” In Public

Building in public is something that more and more entrepreneurs (especially in the tech space) are doing.

Building in public involves documenting and publishing the journey of building your company — in real time. So, as you build, you post about it. This is in quite sharp contrast to the traditional way of launching/building a company where you try and remain secretive and quiet until launch day and then BAM — you launch.

It’s essentially a marketing tactic. You build a following, add value to their lives, and make them feel like they’re part of the growth and journey of this new company. And then they turn into loyal customers.

You can do the same thing in your personal capacity. Social media, and technology as a whole, affords you an extremely powerful and far-reaching distribution network.

All that’s required is a little bit of effort, and some tact. Remember, there’s a difference between ‘doing in public’ and selling. You’re not trying to force things down people’s throats or sell yourself to them. You’re simply putting your thinking, outcomes, products and goals into the world so that if someone finds them interesting or valuable, they can follow along.

In my experience, the best way to do this is to write. I do it through a personal blog (and this blog). I write every single day, without fail. Sometimes I publish every day, sometimes I don’t.

It’s fun, too. I write about stuff that interests me, and learn as I go. That way, people who are following along are getting an inherit value from reading, I’m learning new things, and when an opportunity comes along to one of my readers that is aligned with one of my interests or goals — I’m the first person they think of.

Do This

Next time you’re undertaking a project, think to yourself, how can I document this experience? What would interest other people?

Do more in public, build a following, attract a tribe.

Tool 3: Offer an Opinion

An all boys, full time, boarding school can be a harsh environment for a boy going through the formative years of your life. The pressure to fit in is immense. This coming from someone who pretty much fitted the mold for the ‘perfect’ high school student. I was a natural leader, physically able, good at sports and relatively clever.

Even still, I left high school with my guard up. I was so used to masking my real opinions, thoughts and feelings that it’s taken me years to unravel the layers of protection I’d covered over my unique self. Deep down inside me there was the makings of an amateur writer, a passionate techy, a bit of a psychology nerd, and a running fanatic.

I’ve only recently started really exploring those sides of me and starting to discover my own voice in each of those various passions, as well as others. I’m learning that criticism and rejection are just parts of life that should be dealt with as at-ease as the wins and good times.

Part of that realization is learning to form and express an opinion. It sounds intuitive, but having an opinion is important. It draws out a reaction from those around you, and opens you up for feedback. Feedback means your point of view is challenged, and you’re forced to put logical reason behind your opinions.

In the face of a challenge, what you imagined to be the only reality possible now needs justification. When you have to think about your opinions logically they either:

  1. Are further understood, and your point of view now has substance behind it, or
  2. Are altered and your point of view is more rounded, and circumspect.

Both, desirable outcomes.

Do This

Voice your opinion, and then listen. Listen to understand the person you’re talking to. Don’t listen to respond. Listen to grow your perspective, and learn.

Tool 4: Information Diet

The internet gives us another tool that no one could’ve dreamed of ten years ago here. It provides us with a quick and easy way to build an environment around us that fosters creativity, and excites our brains.

Because more and more people are putting their thoughts into the world for free (Medium, Twitter, Blogging etc.) it has never been easier to curate an environment that fosters a way of thinking.

As an example, when I signed up for Twitter a few months ago, I got a recommendation to follow Marc Andreessen, from Andreessen Horowitz. Then there were a few other VC’s that popped up as Twitter’s recommendations. I recognized a few names, so I followed them too. I pretty soon became quite addicted to Twitter. I’d just unlocked a whole new world!

It was like I was part of a friendship group of highly successful VC’s that couldn’t stop giving me their tricks and tips, and teaching me how to think like them.

Soon, I noticed how my decision making processes at our company changed. My horizons were expanding. I had jumped out of the “small tech startup in Africa” box, and I was starting to think bigger. You’re only going to get as big as you’re willing to dare to think about.

By surrounding yourself with interesting and different things, people and information, you are forced to widen your scope of thinking. You learn to live outside the bounds of what you consider normal, and develop a different perspective.

Do This

Do an audit of where you’re getting your world view from. Consider the different sources of information that influence your life and your way of thinking. How can you change these up so that you’re curating the best environment possible?

Tool 5: Critical Thinking

One of the lost skills of the 21st century seems to be the ability to think originally and critically about a problem. Andresseen Horowitz’s recent article — It’s Time to Build — highlights how society has become complacent in our efforts to think critically and solve our problems with new and unique ideas.

It is so quick and easy to do a quick Google search for answers, that that becomes the go-to response to any question we’re faced with.

How many times in the last few days have you been faced with a problem where you’ve been required to apply your brain, and reverted to Google (or another source of info) for an answer on how to solve it — meh, someone else would have done this before.

Now imagine that we all just continue doing this. We’ll pretty soon have a world with a ton of problems (which you could argue we’re living in now), and not a lot of creative solutions.

Do This

Don’t neglect your creativity. Foster a habit of challenging your brain and the frameworks you rely on to make decisions. Learn about mental models. Go meta on your thinking. Be inquisitive. Just make sure you are constantly flexing your creative muscles. It’ll quickly lead to being the most interesting person in any room, because you’ll have developed a unique way of thinking about things that most people can’t even understand.

Being an interesting person is important, but it is just the symptom of being the best, most true version of yourself. Inside everyone is someone interesting, with a unique combination of experiences, interests, influences and DNA.

These five tools are just mechanisms that I’ve used to bring that interesting bit to the fore. In discovering and using them, I’ve also experienced a profound sense of happiness and contentment. To be your most interesting self is to be absolutely true to yourself. There is no more liberating feeling.

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