My Authentic, Contradictory Self

Why I’m holding back from defining who I am.

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I gave in to the social media highlight reel a few years back. It not only seemed like a prudent method to stay connected with people I was losing touch with, but the temptation to embellish in a few fabrications regarding my self-worth was too much to pass up.

When placed at the forefront, one’s relationship with oneself can be one of life’s most confronting crusades. For me, I put off taking the hard look in the mirror simply because I felt I was the only one having to do so. From my vantage point, everyone else seemed secure, undeviating, and unabashed. 

I had none of these qualities and rather than acknowledge my shortcomings by tending to them with care, I chose to cover them up the same way I used to toss a blanket over a pile of laundry in my closet. My life eventually spiraled into perpetual “Band-Aid” mode — temporary fixes aplenty.

The more focus I give the question of “Who Am I?” the further the internal dialogue slips into abyss. I’m not perfect — and to define myself in any way involves a behavioral and cognitive consistency I’ll never be able to match.

Because it’s not that simple. What you see on my (or anyone’s social media account for that matter) is generally the apex of my mind and heart at any given moment. And despite there being nothing wrong with this, it’s hardly a complete picture of reality.

The more I feed into the “highlight reel”, the further my internal and external selves distance from one another. I know my life isn’t all experiential euphoria, fearless conviction, or unwavering faith — so why pretend that it is? With each manufactured truth comes an eroding of self-confidence — if what’s really going on must be hidden, how can who I really am be good enough?

Humans relish in consistency, certainty, meeting expectations, and everything going according to plan. We like surprises — but only as long as those surprises benefit us. This traces back to the primitive nature of our species: technological advancements and evolutionary progression aside, the need for safety and security still reigns supreme.

Given this understanding, the internal struggles are not something we talk about. We feel that by opening up the multi-layered, conflicted, paradoxical self that’s inside all of us, people will repel automatically. The fear that what could actually bring us closer together will be met with labeling, chastising, and ignorance keeps the darkness locked up — even if it’s at the expense of our own spiritual well-being.

Warren Buffett puts it like this, 

“Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?”

Ultimately, we can’t always have it both ways. We often have to choose which evaluation — our own or the world’s — of us is going to reign supreme.

Whether or not it’s admitted, the world is in a constant state of existential crisis. The addiction to information is stronger than cocaine. Knowledge is one of the few things that provides peace for people — even if only for a moment. Large and complex ideas are shrunk down via categorization for easier intellectual accounting — with people being at the very top of that list.

Fear runs much of the day-to-day. Many people are too frantic to read through the gilded magnum opus that is your life, so they apply a quick mental label to make better sense of you so they can resume their state of panic.

Don’t take it too personal if someone judges you incorrectly. Odds are, you’re doing the same thing to yourself. You’re a deeply-conflicted, multi-faceted, transformative being and to limit yourself in explanation of who you are to merely a few sentences would be an injustice. Think about it: even close friends and partners still don’t have you pegged. Why tell the world who you are is your job title, your passion or even your values?

Keep living, keep evolving, keep contradicting. It may upset some people but it’s a small price to pay for complete and utter self-acceptance. Don’t run from your dark sides, your weaknesses, your vices. Everything shapes you to some degree — it’s up to you to find the empowering alternatives.

If you see yourself as objectively as possible, you’ve got a far better chance of growing into the person you truly wish to become.