When I think about “Self-discovery”, the first word that lit up in my mind was: Easy. I honestly thought to myself, how hard could it be, to write about the self?
The self is me. I am me, myself and I. The end. Easy.
However, out of the annoyance with my own arrogant and narcissistic thoughts, I was determined to further scrutinize and delve deeper into the idea of self-discovery. I believe that there is definitely more than meets the eye. There always is.
Upon reflection, the reason I thought that it was easy is because I see “discovering ourselves” as the most basic task that was assigned to us as early as when we were in kinder garden, or preschool. I am pretty sure I got the idea from my extensive interest in the field of developmental psychology, and Sigmund Freud, the father of pychoanalysis, who focused heavily on the memories of early childhood.
It occurred to me that, discovery of the self could have started with writing our own names with pencil and paper. It is in our very first experiences of an educational context that we learn to give ourselves an identity that we can inhabit for the rest of our lives. We then learn to acknowledge people closest to us, distinguishing the self from others. This is me, because I am not them.
We were taught to illustrate our family in drawings, and we labelled our caricatures of each family members as “my father” and “my mother”. We were encouraged to describe our friends and neighbours in short stories. We wrote poems about our pets because we loved them and they belonged to us. Therefore, I have the impression that we were asked to discover, or rather, define ourselves since we were three feet tall.
These activities that I have touched on fall under my interpretation of “self-discovery”, because they are outlets that call for genuine and impeccably raw thoughts from us, straight from the core self. They are opportunities that prompt us to label the things we call our own and to name the people or things we come in contact with. Essentially, self-discovery is about making sense of the world we live in. It is partly about attaching the word “my” to things around us because they represent one’s existence. And, they give the self meanings and purposes.
I remember such tasks of discovering the self being effortless when I was five, so I thought they would be easy now that I am in my mid-20s. Supposedly, I am more grown-up, more capable, more educated and more mature. In scientific terms, the prefrontal cortex of my brain (the mushy parts of the brain right behind the forehead) that is responsible for abstract thinking, complex planning and decision making, is now more developed compared to when I was a kid. I should be well-equipped to distinguish my self against the world. But is that the case?
The truth is, self-discovery definitely did not become easier as we grow older. Conversely, it has become harder as we progress because the world is becoming more complicated than we could imagine. Putting myself in the shoes of my five-year-old self, I would not say that I could see that coming. I would not have thought that the discovery of self could turn out to be so vexing now that I am a quarter of a century old.
As we continued with our quest to discover the self, we were bestowed with the reality that the world around us is becoming more complicated. How could we ever keep up? For instance, friends could turn into lovers. Friends could turn into enemies. Best friends could turn into strangers. There is such a thing called “friends with benefits”. These friends I call mine, they come and go. As for family, which used to be our safety net to fall back on, now has turned into a burden we must help to carry. Alternatively, some people choose to abandon the family altogether, leaving part of the self behind. What about our pets? If you were to ask me, I would not know where to start. Do you mean my turtles? My dogs? My fish? My hamsters? Or are you referring to my hermit crabs? Anyhow, they are all dead and gone. We could not be more lost than ever.
I find it unfathomable that these losses that we experience in life were once part of the self. If these bits and pieces of the self that we had come to be attached to along the way would eventually be gone anyway, then why do we bother discovering the self in the first place? Where is the end to this?
It makes me question again, how do we discover the self, really.
Unfortunately, there is even less and less guidance available as we progress up the educational levels. The institutions and universities do not teach us how to discover ourselves, or how to handle losses. As much as a theory hoarder such as myself can tell, self-discovery is an area in which I struggle to pinpoint specific psychological theories to back up my opinions and arguments. Unlike the topic from the last issue, “loss” where I had no problem whipping out facts and data to nuance my perspectives, with “self-discovery”, my knowledge gained from all the academic learning has failed me. I am lost for explanations.
The increased complexities in the world and the lack of guidance available were both good enough evidence to challenge my own thoughts and refute my initial assumption that “self-discovery is easy”. It leads me to conclude that self-discovery is not easy but it is indeed simple, fundamental, essential, elementary and necessary. For goodness’s sake, we started this journey of “self-discovery” when we were young and it does not seem like we will ever stop discovering until our hearts stop beating, will we?
In other words, self-discovery is basic but is never easy. Such is how words play tricks on us. Or is that how the mind deceits us?
Oh dear, I should have known better.
Next time, when it comes to the self, I would consult the heart and not the mind. I have had enough with reasoning. Enough with the attempts of trying to make sense of what is happening around us. Let’s stop with the thinking and try feeling.
Maybe, self-discovery is about feeling the existence of the self, being here right in the midst of confusion and uncertainties in the complex world.
Let’s be present. Be still. Breathe. Just be. Ain’t that much easier than thinking?
Ai Ming is fascinated by people and their ideas; these range from the most mundane to the evolutionary. Her educational background spans across psychology, cultural studies and business. She’s a dreamer – an introverted one.