5 big reasons why “finding yourself” is a pop culture lie

The idea of “finding yourself” is very popular. You hear it all the time from New Age gurus, motivational speakers, and self-help books.

But finding yourself is bullshit.

I spent years hoping I’d somehow come across my true self and have my life’s purpose revealed.  But finding yourself and your purpose doesn’t work like that.

You find yourself when you stop looking and start doing.

You get real answers when you embrace the mystery of existence instead of living in your intellect.

As the shaman Rudá Iandê says:

“The best contribution which shamanism brought to my life were not answers, but the possibility of embracing the mystery that I am.”

Why is finding yourself a pop culture lie?

As bestselling author Steven Bartlett tweeted:

“Finding yourself” is a pop culture lie.

”Finding your passion” is a pop culture lie.

“Finding your soul mate” is a pop culture lie.

There is nothing to find, only to create.

Here’s the thing:

I do think we each have unique gifts and talents.

I do think there is something to the idea of destiny.

I do think we have individual “lessons” to learn in life, in some ways.

But I also agree with Bartlett that you don’t find yourself so much as you create yourself.

You also foster the relationships that help you become yourself or let them wither away and lose what they could have brought.

You make mistakes and have amazing triumphs. You go through sadness that feels like it will never end and then good times that feel incredible.

You struggle with doubt about God and the universe one day and are filled with humble faith the next.

None of us are static objects waiting like a gleaming pile of gold next to an ancient Aztec pyramid.

We are always moving, ever-changing and dynamic, just like nature and the cosmos.

With that said, here are five of the biggest reasons why finding yourself is a pop culture lie.

1) Our true identity is waiting to be co-created, not uncovered

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As I was writing above, none of us are static objects. We are always changing.

I do believe we have a core identity that unfolds through our experiences and actions in life, but it’s up to us to create it and hold true to it.

You don’t come across your life path or true self in the process of thinking deeply or pegging a new dream mansion on your vision board.

These things may be helpful to some, but in order to find our true selves, we need to be “anxious for the fray” as President Calvin Coolidge said.

You can’t figure out life sitting in an ivory tower, and even if you do get it all down on paper — or in your mind — you’re still going to have to actually apply it to the gritty real world.

Read Callie Byrnes:

“To even want to find ourselves in the sense that pop culture commemorates, we’d have to be ok with making ourselves static. With accepting that a final destination exists. And that may be comforting, but it’s so limiting.

It’s to say that, once a certain version of you has been reached, you no longer want to grow or expand.”

I don’t know about you but I’m still growing (especially sideways, but I’ll save that for another article on dieting).

2) We’re all interconnected — and that’s a good thing

One of the greatest philosophers, playwrights, thinkers, and creators of all time Johann von Goethe has a quotation which I absolutely love.

“In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.”

This is so true. We’re not here in this world alone. We’re here with others. And finding yourself makes you too focused on, well…you.

As columnist David Brooks noted in the New York Times, one of the biggest lies that our society tells us is that we can make ourselves happy.

“This is the lie of self-sufficiency. This is the lie that happiness is an individual accomplishment. If I can have just one more victory, lose 15 pounds or get better at meditation, then I will be happy.”

Brooks talks a lot about this in his 2019 book the Second Mountain, which I reviewed unfavorably for the Russell Kirk Center.

Still, despite finding his book stale, I completely agreed with Brooks’ point that open-ended freedom, individualism, and lack of structure are destroying people’s sense of purpose.

“People looking back on their lives from their deathbeds tell us that happiness is found amid thick and loving relationships,” Brooks says, adding that “in reality, the people who live best tie themselves down. They don’t ask: What cool thing can I do next? They ask: What is my responsibility here? They respond to some problem or get called out of themselves by a deep love.”

If you get too obsessed with “finding yourself”, you may notice you’re all alone in a dark wood and that this whole life thing wasn’t primarily about you in the first place: it was about what you could be part of and contribute to together with others.

3) “Finding yourself” is a rigged game

Why is finding yourself a pop culture lie?

A big part of the reason is also that even if you do go on an inner journey of revealing your true self in some way, you’re not necessarily going to be honest about it.

Most of us lie to ourselves at times about our own negative qualities and traits.

What if you “find yourself” but it turns out you have a pretty monstrous temper or a deeply jealous streak that keeps popping up?

You may acknowledge these things but you’re far more likely to focus on how you found that you have a gift for compassion and are patient.

We want to see ourselves in a positive light, but pushing down negative emotions and characteristics is actually a very bad idea and denies entire parts of ourselves as “unworthy” or “bad.”

More from Dr. Shai L. Butler on the dangers of self-absorption and lying to ourselves because it feels nice:

“Even with a pop culture gone mad about being authentic, I am overwhelmed by the level of lying that still occurs.

“Before you misunderstand, hear me out. These are not overt, premeditated, and malicious lies. These are lies of omission, avoidance, and denial. These are the lies I tell myself, about myself.”

4) Finding yourself feeds the consumer mindset

Another big problem I have with finding yourself and the ideas surrounding it is that it feeds the consumer ideology.

Let’s be real, how is modern society telling you to “find yourself” for the most part?

Signing up for Law of Attraction conferences that cost enormous amounts, buying new clothes, purchasing the right new technology that will “connect” you to the world, racking up all sorts of experiences, products, sponsorships, and relationships that will “prove” you are who you say you are and that you’re worthy.

This consumer cycle feeds an egotistical pattern that never ends in satisfaction.

At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with looking after yourself including your image, health, and happiness. Just try to minimize how much of that relates to buying stuff.

When you look after yourself you become someone who can also care for others.

As blogger Jasmin O. writes:

“Putting oneself first doesn’t mean that you forego everyone else completely. There is a healthy balance to be made here, and everyone should put in the effort to finding it. Take care of yourself, and you’ll find that it was really worth the effort.”

5) You can’t always get what you want

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I can’t tell you why bad things happen in life or if they’re necessarily part of a larger meaning.

I can tell you that all of us struggle more than it seems like and life is no breeze for anyone, even that millionaire sitting alone in his mansion surrounded by supermodels.

The idea of finding yourself is harmful and illusory because it presents the idea that life is a kind of treasure hunt with you as the prize.

But it’s not.

And life is going to knock even the strongest of us down.

Even those who have done so much inner work they’re practically glowing are going to have tragedies, broken relationships, anxieties, and sadness.

That’s why finding yourself isn’t what you should be focused on.

As Yvette D’Entremont says very bluntly: “finding yourself is bullshit.”

As D’Entremont says:

“Go out and live the life you want, minus Finding Yourself Inc. Along the way, you’ll probably stop worrying about if you’re found.”

Maybe you’ll drop back down to your size-6 jeans (or not, because really, you’re not your pants size either).

Maybe you’ll learn that new language and do something that scares you. And along the way, you’ll figure out you.

And that’s not bullshit And for fuck’s sake, don’t read The Secret.”

Why is finding yourself a pop culture lie?

You tell me.

Have I got it all wrong here or do you think I’m onto something?

There’s a lot of validity to the idea of realizing your full potential and becoming a genuine and unfiltered person.

But we also need to be careful not to embrace ideas that seem too good to be true like positive thinking fixing life’s problems or finding yourself being some plateau that then makes everything afterward clear and defined.

We’re always changing and when you find one aspect of yourself you’ll discover another.

And we’re all related to each other, helping each other find and even create new parts of ourselves and new experiences to share and transform the world one small step at a time.

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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