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On Identity: Who Am I?

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

It has been a while since I wrote my last blog or article. Three years ago to be precise. Why you might wonder? Besides my first daughter being born, these past years have been quite egoistically centered around deepening my comprehension of true health. An understanding you cannot gain from ANY academic textbook but solely by direct self exploration and pilot application with just a very limited number of students. Whilst my future articles will be of a more 'scientific nature' (meaning referring to specific strong evidence for some claims or recommendations that I'll be making), this blog is different and more personal. It is actually the first time that I will be sharing chapters from 'my life story' and how it relates to everything that I'm (not) doing.


Let's rewind a little...


It was a humid evening in Rio de Janeiro when I arrived in my hostel after an almost 30-hour bus ride from Argentina. By then I had been solo traveling through Central and South America for almost 5 months, deepening my already existing health practices and exploring new ones. While unpacking my backpack in the shared but seemingly empty dormitory, a fellow traveller walked in and started a conversation. It was not just a short common backpacking conversation it turned out later. This friendly middle age man was definitely on the path of self-development and, before I knew it, he asked me this simple but most profound question; Who are you?


‘Of course, I know who I am’ I heard myself think, and I started explaining. I told him that I was a graduated Health Scientist who was exploring/researching a wide variety of practices, which would lead to the best body, mind and health possible.


‘’Are you meditating already?’’ He asked. I told him that I started experimenting with meditation about a month ago after reading a book on Buddhism.


‘’Just sit with it.’’ he said.


‘’ Sit? Sit with what?’’ I replied.


‘’The question that I just asked you; who are you? Sit with it in stillness, it’s crucial for anybody who’s on this path’’ he replied.


Somehow, I was very uncomfortable. I told him I would sit with it though and fell almost instantaneously asleep.


This encounter took place three years ago and initiated an intensified beginning of another journey. Not a journey through yet another continent or academic program, but an inner journey. A journey of shedding away assumed identities and moving towards ultimate well-being.


This quest for identity began in my childhood. I was born into a mixed ethnic family in The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. A country in Southeast Europe in the so-called Balkan region. Yugoslavia consisted of six smaller republics. I was born in Bosnia, which had, and still has, the largest ethnically mixed population of all the former Yugoslavian regions. Not long after I was born, increasing nationalism resulted in Yugoslavia to fall apart and a bloody ethnic civil war ensued.


As a consequence of this, and the mixed ethnic make-up of our family, my parents didn’t have much of another option than to make an emergency exit plan. They left the Balkans and headed first for Berlin, Germany with me and my younger sister. After two uncertain years there, we moved again to start rebuilding ‘a life’ in The Netherlands.


Throughout my childhood years in the Netherlands, I often was confronted with questions in regard to my background and identity. Even though my appearance wasn’t noticeably different than the other children’s, my name most certainly was. When other kids or their parents asked questions like ‘where are you from`? 'you aren't Dutch are you?' and ‘what is your nationality’? (and this occurred a couple times every week), I usually didn’t know how to answer best or how to explain the complexity of this question. Nor did I really know the answer for myself.


Was I Bosnian because that is where I was born? Or was I Croatian? Serbian? Yugoslavian? Or was I Dutch, since my family had been given Dutch Passports five years after we arrived in the Netherlands. ‘Who was I?’.


As a consequence of my internal confusion, the answers to these questions were rather inconsistent and often dependent of the circumstances or the person asking.

This ‘identity confusion’ during early childhood served as a catalyst for more identity exploration during my puberty and teenage years. I was never satisfied or at ease with being defined and concretized as one ‘type’ for long. I often changed or went back and forth between identities; at times I wanted to be seen as a skateboarder, other times I embraced the image of a competitive tennis player, yet other times I really wanted to feel and look ‘decadent’, so Ralph Lauren Polo shirts were A MUST (since identity, I comprehended, was mostly derived from what you were wearing, having or how you were looking).


During my last few years of adolescence, I started to embrace the ‘male archetype’ and got into mainstream fitness/weightlifting for primarily aesthetic (size + tone) reasons. Quite rapidly my body gave me signs that repeating lots of the same linear, isolating movement patterns with too much volume and large amounts of diary protein had its downside; frequent back aches started to occur as well as digestive discomfort.


I think it was at that point that I started to become sensitive to the fact that no one particular role or identity was the long-term answer. Somehow, every role that I assumed seemed to have its pitfalls and limitations under certain circumstances. With this knowledge I found myself back at the beginning. If no identity was permanent or fixed, what mattered to me?


Alongside my exploration of identity, I had developed a deep love for the one thing that did seem to really matter; health and wellness. This was not an identity but more a method of existing that led towards a feeling of inner stability no matter what identity was suited at the time. This newly gained insight initiated the decision to transition from the more specialist education movement college to the broader, multi-dimensional academic Health Science program on Maastricht University. And it was here that I really started to explore the deeper meaning of health and all (non)actions that influence it.


This quest to understand the meaning of true health and my devotion to research (both scientific papers and self-testing) best practices, methods, tools and insights intensified for the decade after obtaining my Master of Science Degree. The result of this continuous, ongoing health research and exploration is what I call now The Ultimate Wellness System; an efficient, effective, cross-domain system developed to help busy people from all over the world to thrive by mastering their attention and focus while creating a pain-free, capable physique. A system that emphasizes multiple different abilities and ‘identities’ which are essential for performance optimization and improving quality of life.


The take home message from ‘my story’ is that although a fixed identity might serve you extremely well for a little while, it will always be inherently limited and often even harmful in the long run. This holds true for applying wellness practices and business endeavors too; no one single breathing practice, marketing strategy, fasting regime, meditation technique or movement ability will be appropriate for everyone. Or in every situation.


You must learn how and when to use what tool, strategy, or practice in a sustainable way in order to live to your core values and move towards your wellness, business and ultimately life goals. Therefore, it is crucial to learn how to disentangle yourself from any concretized, assumed role, strategy and practice. Only by embracing all identities and abilities as a possibility will you be able to respond most effectively to the always changing circumstances of the movement called life. I consider this to be the ‘real’ flexibility we need to be practicing on a daily basis, that is if you want to know true success, health and wellbeing.


Until next time,


Move Mindfully, Be Well.


Niko Sati Nikolic (MSc, CSCS)





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