In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about the idea of figuring out the answer to the question “who am I?”.

This is a question that we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives. However, in order for you to find yourself, you need to learn about yourself first. And this is no small feat. Figuring out who you are and what you want out of life can be challenging, and affects the kind of founder you will become.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on what this question means to them and share some tips that can help you answer the question.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:44 Steli’s thought on how to figure the answer to this question.

02:55 Why you have to ask and answer this question.

03:18 The impact our childhood has on us as adults.

04:26 How our experiences are changing as we grow older.

05:03 A quote that came to Steli’s mind.

05:43 Steli thoughts on being who you want to be.

06:18 The importance of acknowledging who you are at your core.

06:56 A big lesson Steli’s learned after arriving at the valley.

07:48 Hiten’s point of view on finding yourself versus defining yourself.

3 Key Points:

  • This is one of those things that most people will struggle with at one point or another.
  • Some of the choices we make might be right, but many tend not to be.
  • Don’t try to find yourself, define yourself.



Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. Today on The Startup Chat we’re going to talk about this idea of trying to figure out or figuring out, if you’re lucky, the answer to the question who am I? We wanted to give you some thoughts on that. So, Steli?



Steli Efti: Yes.



Hiten Shah: How do we tell people to figure this one out?



Steli Efti: That’s a good one. I don’t know, so this is good question, right? I think this is one of those things that seems so obvious and people have heard so many times that I think it’s easy to underestimate the weight of the question and the importance of finding the true answer to this in your life. I think it’s one of those things that most people will struggle with at some point or another. I think when we’re really young it’s a really big central topic of our existence, right? Especially kind of like the … At least it was for me and for most people that I observe kind of the teenage years are years that I feel like are centered all around the question of who the hell am I? And trying out different personalities and different lives. Being like, am I a sports person? Am I into music? Am I a cool kid? Am I a nerd? What are my interests? What are my hobbies? What is my tribe? What is my identity? I feel like those are the years that we’re trying to figure out who we are. Then it seems to me that too many of us too quickly are getting attached to whatever story it is and we’re just stuck there. Some of the choices that we do early might be right, but many of them might not be. A lot of people I’m not sure re-examine this often enough. What happens is that because we’re all incredibly insecure, we usually look outside to find someone that seems to know what they’re doing and we just think we need to be like that person to also be happy, successful, significant, whatever it is that we’re aiming for. So I do think that most people maybe haven’t answered the question truthfully and are suffering the consequences from it. That’s my instant and initial response when you say, how do you figure out who you are? My first thoughts are that you have to ask the question again and really make sure that you have answered it correctly versus just being attached and stuck in an answer that you might have picked out when you were really young a really long time ago.



Hiten Shah: I think that’s really powerful. We don’t tend to realize what impact our childhood had on us and what kind of things we picked up as you said, and then also are sort of running with. You know, depending on what circles you kind of roll in or what you read, some would call that programming. So it would be like what were you programmed with as a child? What did you … And there’s a few different layers of that. There’s the behavior you saw in front of you from your family whatever family means to you or whatever family was to you at that time. That’s sort of just mimicking whatever you saw. Then there’s also taking on whatever you saw and then internalizing it and coming up with our own ideas of what it was because as much as we want to believe we remember everything or we can recall an experience or something perfectly, actually what’s happening is as we grow up these experiences that we saw, all these behaviors that we saw in front of us actually change because we’re changing. Our experiences are changing and so the whole revisionist history and this idea that whatever you saw back then, it’s changed because of your own life experiences is real. It’s true, whatever you experience you might have a different reason for who you are based on those experiences from the past. A lot of things you take on from your family members growing up and whoever had the greatest impact on you, whoever you spent the most time with early one, whatever behaviors you observed.



Steli Efti: Yeah, it’s crazy. I think that … I’m wondering, one quote that just came to my mind as we were speaking was this quote of like don’t try to find yourself or, yeah, don’t try to find yourself, define yourself. Like instead of looking for who am I as like this thing that’s whatever, god given or set in stone from the universe or whatever you want … Like something that was there from the get go. People should just make a decision who they want to be and then just become that person through actions, right? I’m in neither camp. It’s funny, like I don’t believe that anybody can be anyone they want to be. I do believe that we are born with a certain DNA setup that makes us strong in some areas and weaker in others. I do believe that we can overcome weaknesses. I do believe that we can change our character to a certain degree or expand it, but I do believe that there’s a kernel that’s there in the very beginning of who we are and I don’t think that fighting against that and trying to be something completely different is wise or smart. It’s kind of a balancing act between acknowledging who you are in your core and what your natural strengths and your natural interests and your natural personality and spirit is and realizing that you can add to that, change it, amplify it and defining what kind of a person you want to be moving forward. But I see so many … If we want to bring this down a little bit to the entrepreneurship world or the founder world, I had mentioned this many times before in episodes prior that when I first arrived in the Valley in the US 30 years ago I wanted, I think like most people at that time, or many founders at that time, I had this idea in my mind that I needed to be like a Steve Jobs type of a founder, right? I was admiring him. He was on top of the world at that time. I was like, this is the type of person I need to become in order to be as successful as I want to be. It took me a few years to wisen up and realize that he was awesome in some ways and probably terrible in others but overall he was an incredible human being but I can’t be a copy of him. It’s a dumb idea to even try because I don’t want to be a copy of him. I’m a completely different person and for me to be happy, fulfilled, and truly successful I need to figure it out on my own and amplify who I truly am. I’m wondering about this concept of being born a certain way and discovering who you are versus defining and developing who you want to be. What’s your point of view of those two things?



Hiten Shah: I think self development and defining who you want to be is really powerful. The part of it that … What I find a little nuanced is if you truly want to do that at the core, a lot of it has to do with shedding who you aren’t.



Steli Efti: Mm-hmm (affirmative).



Hiten Shah: Right?



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: So like if you were taught whatever … But see, it’s one of those things that I find, this is where this whole concept turns into a lifelong journey because you, you know, when you’re going through your different life phases you are essentially a different person. Even every day you might be a different person. You know, something changes, like there’s a new experience. There’s a insight that you get about yourself or life or everything around you and you adjust. So to me, I think a lot of this is like if I were to just be really prescriptive it’s finding those patterns that cause you to feel a certain way or be a certain way or react a certain way and then figuring out whether you want those to continue or not, right? To go all the way to something very positive like helping an old lady cross the street, right? It could be a pattern that if that happens to you and you help a old lady cross the street multiple times in your life and that’s something you like about yourself, that’s the pattern. That’s great. It’s a good one. It’s one that you might want. But you saw it, right? Another example would be, you know, every time you’re in the street and you see a homeless person you decide to give them some money. That’s a pattern. Is that a pattern you want to continue or not? Then it starts getting more interesting. Another example would be you’re driving, someone cuts you off, you get really angry at them. You start driving faster. Your heart starts racing. That might happen to you all the time. In fact, people who are listening probably experience that. Is that what you want? Do you want to hold that anger? Is that a pattern you want to stop? Right, so to me a lot of this has to do with if you’re trying to define who you are you should figure out these sort of subtle things or these patterns and see if you want to change them. You know, some would say, “Oh, you should only keep the positive ones.” And things like that. I don’t think I’m as prescriptive. For me it’s like if you like getting angry when someone cuts you off and there’s something about it that you can’t let go or you don’t want to let go and that helps define you in a small way, maybe a big way, so be it. To me, it’s just finding these things and a lot of them are these triggers. A lot of them are these positive behaviors. A lot of them are things like that. If every time you meet a new person you hug them, is that a thing? Is that something you want to continue? Great, continue it. You know? Or is that something you want to change because you make other people uncomfortable all the time or people come and hug, I don’t know, there’s so many concepts here around patterns like this. To me, it’s like find the pattern, figure out if I want to keep it, if it defines me or not. If it doesn’t define me or I don’t want it to define me then I change it or I at least start becoming aware of it and see what I can do in the moments that it shows up for me.



Steli Efti: Think one thing that I really want to underline that you said … And I think this is so true in most things in life is that this concept of figuring out who you truly are is not just like most thing, most of the concepts in life, it’s not an end destination.



Hiten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: It’s not like some kind of a magical place that once you arrive there you’re set. You don’t have to worry about this anymore. Right? We have this idea about almost anything in life that’s like, success, work, life balance, all these things that we think of as destinations that we’re trying to get to and we think that once we’re there we could just chill for once. We’re just going to forever reap the benefit of having arrived at that destination. That’s not how life works, right? Life is kind of a never ending balancing act and you might be kind of in full harmony with your true self in a way that is really empowering and creates a lot of happiness for you and creates a lot of value for your environment right now. That doesn’t mean that that type of living, thinking and acting a year from now will still be in harmony with the world or yourself. Things, the world is changing, you are changing every day inevitably if you want it or not. I do believe that there’s certain core things that can be true but there’s always some readjustment. There’s always some updating that needs to happen, some reevaluating that needs to happen. I think realizing that and letting go and being okay with that is a big part of taking that journey and enjoying it and not getting stuck at any single place because if you think of it, the reason why … If you thought you were a certain type of person and today that is not serving you anymore, the reason that you had decided that at some point was that it seemed like a good decision or it seemed like a good way of being to you at that moment. It might have been useful back then or it might have been the best thought that you could have with the type of information that you had or the best kind of behavior that you could exhibit in your circumstances. But a year later, 10 years later, a week later, it might just not be true anymore. Having that mental flexibility to reevaluate and to expand and retract and experiment and play even with your personality is I think a really, really useful concept. The other thing that I’ll say in wrapping up the episode is that I think too many of us are looking for answers but are insecure in believing that we are enough and that we are good the way we are and valuable. We are too much outward focused on trying to see who out there seems to have figured out life.



Hiten Shah: Right.



Steli Efti: And then once we find these people we don’t examine critically enough if the way that they live life is truly really great for us and we should truly adopt these ways because of that insecurity. Once you’ve met enough people that seem to be admired by lots of people and once you are in that position where people think you are the person that has figured life out and you realize how untrue this is no matter how successful, wealthy or famous people are, the more you can kind of take that wisdom. But that’s one of those wisdoms that we always love to share with people which is that nobody has fucking figured it out. Nobody knows that much better than you and it’s not usually a good idea to try to find somebody that’s famous or rich or anything else like that and be like, let me just do everything that person does and let me just be that person. Then I’m going to live that person’s life which I think based on whatever Instagram pics that it’s really, really happy. But that’s not a way to choose who you truly are. That’s not a good strategy. It might be fine to talk to people, to read, to get inspired, but don’t just try to copy/paste somebody else’s life with the little information you have about them because you don’t trust your inner voice and your own thoughts and your own ideas about who you want to be.



Hiten Shah: That’s a great way to leave it.



Steli Efti: All right. That’s it from us for this episode.



Hiten Shah: See you.