The Digital Journalist
Who Am I?
Thoughts on the self-discovery process
March 2005

by David H. Lyman

Who are you? Are you really who you are? Or, are you playing a role until the time comes around when you can be you? Too many of us do this, waste our lives being what others expect of us, or what we've been told we should be. Most of this comes from our parents, but then how much of you is really your parents' fault? How much of you is due to your environment, school and life's experiences? Does ancestry plan a role in our behavior? I think it does; it has to, from both a DNA level and the fact that we spent so much time with our parents. Are you living in the reflection of their lives, or are you truly who you are able to be? I ask this, because that's what I do. I lecture on career development and counsel hundreds of people on their careers and creative potential. A process of self-examination, soul-searching, some testing, and a bit of counseling are helpful if we are to live our lives fully, and not in the shadow of others.

If you were to be who you are, rather than acting out someone else's life, how much happier would you be? Is that vision worth the leap from here to there? Often the people I counsel are faced with this challenge ... fearful of the possibility of failure and disappointment. Others make the leap, quit the corporate or family business and become freelance photographers, filmmakers, and working artists. Rarely do I see people move in the other direction, into corporate life with its inherent security and bonds. I've been researching this transition for the past 30 years. I've looked at my own life (65 years of it), discovering how much my ancestors, parents and youth have played a role in the life I lead today. Of course along the way I've been many people, tried on different hats and acted out different roles, feeling which ones fit and those that were uncomfortable. One thing I do know, I am not a "suit." I am definitely a "dungaree" kind of guy.

Most of us have the ability to adapt to most of life's roles: parent, boss, employee, entrepreneur, laborer, artist, businessman, or tramp. Some of these roles are easy; others require a great deal of energy just to get into the uniform each day. We spend more psychic energy play-acting the part then we do in the part, so we never really reach our potential. Finding those roles that fit, jobs and lifestyles that feel "right" takes time, experimentation, and the ability to make a few mistakes, but in the end we find our natural role in life — our "calling."

It all comes down to choices. Yes, we are all predisposed to a particular outlook on life: to be happy or sad, an optimist or pessimist, negative or positive, generous or stingy, boastful or shy. But we can overcome the negative, darker side that we all share, and make decisions to move us to the light, in a more positive and successful direction. Do we have a "destiny?" Yes, but we are in charge of that destiny for we have failure and success built into us at birth. By the choices we make we can wind up a loser, an alcoholic, or in prison — or we can triumph over the handicaps with which we were born and lead a life of contribution, success, reward and enlightenment. We do not have to follow the sins of our parents, but we can use the talents, energy and thirst for life they have given us to our advantage.

One of my current roles in life is that of a parent — difficult at times, yes, but joyful at all times. As I tell my wife, even the worst of times are still the best of times. I am also the president of a small college. Now, for a guy who never did graduate from college, to be the president of one is a stretch, but this college is different. It is a college I built, correcting all the things I felt were wrong with traditional college education: its sheer size, lack of personal attention and too much sitting in lectures and not enough getting out and doing things. So, perhaps I am in the right job, although at times even I have my doubts. William Blake, the English artist and philosopher, calls this sense of dedication a "firm persuasion." He adds: "You feel what you are doing is right for you and at the same time right for the world ... this is a greatest triumph of human existence."

Finding out who you are is a life-long occupation. I am pleased to discover at my age that I am a loving and affectionate father. I advise my students to find something they can do and at which they can fail, and not get fired. For only through exploration and the resulting mistakes, wrong turns and dead-ends do we learn what is possible with the lives we have been given.

Along the way there are a few tests you can take and a few books that can help you to discover more about who you are. I direct you to Helen Palmers' books on the Enneagram personality inventory. You can also learn more about the Enneagram online at and take an online test.

Go online to and take the Kerisey Temperament Sorter II test. It will take you about 20 minutes to complete, but the initial results come back immediately. It will take $14 to get the full report, but this is cheaper than a session with a psychologist, and will be your first step toward self-enlightenment. The Kerisey test is based on the Myers-Briggs Interest inventory that has been around for 30 years or more. I use these tests myself in the classes I teach to help students understand why they are the way they are, and why other people are the way they are. What is alarming is that only 3 percent to 8 percent of the population are truly creative — able to break out of the box, think differently, handle the risk of making mistakes or being a fool and have the drive and need to go to places others find too fearful.

The reason I've gone walking down this road of self-exploration is not only for myself, but also for the people who come to my school on the Maine Coast searching for who they are. Many are working for corporations, longing to quit and go freelance, to embrace a more creative life, but they are scared and turn to this school to show them a way through the darkness they face in making a career transition.

I've been a sea captain and a mountaineer, a photographer and a newspaper editor, a ski instructor and a radio personality. All these roles felt right at the time, but when the learning stopped, I found something else that fed my desire to learn and grow. Now, being a "Geezer Dad" who started his family in his early 60s, this role fits. It had better. I'm in it for the rest of my life.

If you have comments you can e-mail David at

If you want to learn more about yourself, need help in changing careers, or becoming more creative, David conducts a one-week workshop each summer called "Developing Your Creative Potential at The Maine Photographic Workshops."

For more information on Rockport College, go to

© David H. Lyman
President of Rockport College
Founder and Director of The Maine Photographic Workshops

David H. Lyman is the director of The Maine Photographic Workshops, an internationally-known summer center for the world's photographers, journalists and filmmakers. He founded The Workshops in 1973 and The International Film Workshops in 1975. In 1996, he established Rockport College as a conservatory for the world's storytellers and imagemakers, offering a range of career degrees and programs. He is now the president of that college. David is an adventurer: a solo sailor, photographer, filmmaker, writer and entrepreneur. He lectures and writes on the creative process and "Transformational Learning Experiences," as well as raises two small children with his English wife, Julie.