Who does not go through life trying to find out who they are? When my son separated from his wife, he told me he wanted to find himself! I didn’t understand. That was about five years ago. When I look at my son today – the happy, confident and accomplished man he has become, I understand the meaning of finding yourself. You can actually go through life never discovering who you are because you wait for others to authenticate you. You live under their terms and are only as good as they say you are. These could be your family, partner or spouse, teachers, boss or friends.

Yet it is when you discover the real authentic you that you will find deeper meaning and connections in your relationships. You will be comfortable in your own skin and will not really care how others judge you, as long as you remain true to yourself. Many people get into relationships because they expect the other person to love and make them happy. Yet you will never find true love or happiness if you don’t know how to give yourself love and happiness, which you can only do when you know who you are.

When you discover your true self, you surround yourself with people who add value to your life, people you share with a common thread that connects you. You become more selective on who you socialise with. You free yourself from the ‘groupie’ life where you do everything in groups as students, workmates, chama members, wives of friends and so on… There was a time I socialised with just about anyone who cared to invite me or happened to be in a place I had been invited to. I considered myself a happy person because research tells us the “very happy” people are the ones who spend the most time socialising. But I learnt you can be around people, and yes, chatting, laughing and making merry, but you are really not happy. It is not the quantity of your social life that matters but the quality.

There is no doubt that the better your relationships are, the happier your life will be. When you surround yourself with people you know well, people who understand you and you understand them, people who are genuine friends, people who truly care for you and you care for them, people you can have unguarded moments around – laugh yourself silly, share jokes or even enjoy a glass of wine or champagne not worried somebody may be taking pictures of tipsy-you or spreading the word, then you can say you know yourself and are living a happy life.

To reach this point you have to learn how to sift through your relationships to leave only the meaningful ones and if you can’t find any, go out of your way to make new relationships. This comes through learning simple techniques of building strong relationships and not expecting to be loved or appreciated by everyone. It comes with having strong personal values that you will not compromise on.

The first and most important aspect of building strong relationships is becoming a good listener. To create good relationships, you need to brush up on your ‘connection’ skills. People who connect beautifully have three specific attributes: listening, acknowledgment and being authentic. People who connect with others brilliantly listen the most. You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get them interested in you, according to Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

You cannot get that deep connection with people if you are not a good listener. This means giving 100 per cent of your attention to the person you are interacting with; not interrupting when other people talk; asking questions that get people to open up to you; reading between the lines to notice the whole picture, not just the words being said; and reflecting back on what the other person has said so they know you have heard them.

Another powerful way to connect with others is to acknowledge who they are as opposed to what they do. If you put out the special traits or talents of another person, you can affect someone in an incredibly positive way. Pointing out what is great about someone immediately lowers those “I’m not good enough’ defenses. Its also great for you because when you are constantly focusing on what is good about someone; it makes you a great person to be around.

Think about the most judgmental people you know. Do you want to spend time with them?  They will like you because you are so and so, you work for this or that company, you hold this or that position, are well connected or have money. The minute you rid yourself of those kinds of people in your social life, you will begin to find true meaning in happiness.

But you also need to be true to yourself – really authentic – to find that connection with people. Always tell the truth about yourself. Don’t embellish. So what does it matter that I edit or own this magazine? I would still be Eunice Mathu. There is nothing as attractive as someone who is comfortable in their own skin and with nothing to prove in order to be accepted. When you are secure in yourself, others feel safe around you, and if you accept your faults, others feel they can drop their facades and connect with you on a deeper level.

When you can be honest about your challenges as well as your success, when you can acknowledge others for who they are versus what they do or where they come from, and when you can listen freely, you will feel supported, loved and respected for who you really are. You will be halfway on the journey to finding yourself.

emathu@parents.co.ke

Published in July 2014