Please don’t bury your head in your armpit; it looks ridiculous and it won’t help. You’ll never sniff out your self, your real self, that easily. And isn’t that part of why we’re here, to sniff out more about ourselves?
Try thinking of yourself as a fine wine, and I’ll share with you some sniffing tips from an expert. My boyfriend, David, is a sommelier, and therefore makes his living in part through his nose. I, on the other hand, have an under-developed sense of smell, so I’ve had a lot to learn from him.
My initial wine-sniffing lessons paralleled a period of introspection I went through while writing business school applications, and I found a surprising correlation between sniffing wine and getting to know myself.
Wine is a living beverage and it changes over time.
The way a glass of wine smells right after you open the bottle can be very different from the way it smells a while later. People are the same.
It’s important to revisit and reflect on what’s important to us over time as we go through new experiences and are exposed to new ideas. For example, when I was a scientist, I used to pride myself on being detail oriented, but after several years as a consultant, I prefer “big picture” thinking.
Take small sniffs, and isolate one smell at a time.
Don’t try to suck in too much air at once, take small sniffs like your cat or dog does. And don’t worry about immediately identifying a dozen different scents immediately. If you smell blackberries, great, mentally subtract it out and sniff again. Now do you smell dill?
Similarly, long periods of deep navel gazing probably aren’t the best use of your time. Everything can get muddled together. Leverage your thoughts about specific events (or essay questions, or case studies) to explore somewhat discrete elements of your self.
Experience colors everything.
Even if two people have both smelled the same thing at some point, they haven’t experienced it in exactly the same way. For example, my boyfriend associates apples with homemade pie while I associate it with the chore of making laboratory animal food.
Or he might smell Asian pear when I smell Pez candy. Your life experiences might lead you to view the same circumstance or concept very differently than someone else. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
Swirl the glass.
I know it looks silly, but it works because it breaks the surface and helps to oxidize the wine, which brings out nuances. Similarly, we can understand more about ourselves by disturbing our surface of familiar habits and beliefs. We’ve all done that in a big way by stepping out of our full time professional lives to return to school.
Most importantly, enjoy the experience. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, not labored over. In getting to know yourself, have fun and enjoy the discovery.