How to Know Who You Are
Mystical journey or mundane recognition of reality?
Something that consistently baffles me about the world today is how the “self” is often conceptualized as a kind of mysterious separate essence to be discovered, usually through emotional labor and sometimes even through a quasi-spiritual journey. It’s very odd to me that the essence of who you are should be so hidden and so difficult to understand.
It’s even odder to me that people act as if their true selves will come to them through revelation rather than through the simple act of living and being true to their own convictions.
This attitude, I believe, is at the core of the trans issue. So many people are so caught up in this narrative of “discovery” and “work” to figure out who they really are that they land as far as believing that their true self can somehow magically be the opposite sex. Essentially, their “true self” is a self that they quite literally are not and can never become.
But the gender issue is just one manifestation of a broader confusion in our culture. Everywhere, people are on a quest for their true selves. They try to find it in all sorts of ways—on spiritual retreats, through psychedelics, in the pages of self-help books, in political and ideological groups, and even through diets.
It makes me sad that people can feel so disconnected from themselves. It seems that, to solve this, many are searching for secret knowledge: something to uncover, usually in a flash of insight. But how does it make sense to look for what is performing the search? To really “find yourself,” all you have to do is be who you are.
This is not to say that being yourself is the easiest thing to do. Many factors keep us from feeling free to live honestly: low self-esteem, fear of judgment, and social pressure, just to name a few. Overcoming these obstacles is where the journey really is.
For starters, the feeling of being truly able to speak your mind can be incredibly liberating. Every time you speak your mind you are expressing yourself and being who you really are. It’s not a mystical journey or a magical flash of inspiration, but it is a simple and immediate feeling of freedom that does, in a way, place it above the mundane experience of everyday life.
Even more important than speaking your mind is thinking your own thoughts. If you’re speaking your mind but your mind is controlled by the thoughts and judgments of others, then you aren’t actually being yourself. I think the only way to do this is to stop being preoccupied with what others might be thinking and how they might be judging you.
How can there be a more immediate and direct way to find out who you really are than getting to a point where you let yourself think and speak the truth as you see it?
Another area where a sense of journey and adventure comes into being yourself is in improving yourself. There may not be a hidden “self” to unearth through spiritual insight or emotional fervor, but you can always grow and improve through sustained effort.
Improving yourself is crucial because speaking and thinking what you think is true means discovering what that actually is. If you’re simply content with your current level of understanding, then you might not have the knowledge to respond to it as you. Instead, you might end up defaulting to parroting someone else’s thoughts, words, and opinions.
I don’t think that we can truly be ourselves if our heads are filled with the thoughts of others. But thinking our own thoughts can be so difficult that it often seems easier to search for ourselves in a flash of mystical revelation. But that’s not how it works. You already are who you are—you just have to find a way to act like it.
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