How to Find the True You

Are you on a journey of self-discovery? Do you sense that one of your purposes on earth is finding the true you? To be honest with yourself? To be authentic? Real? If so, you’re not alone. For right or wrong, western culture spurs this exploration and all it’s dalliances.

I spend most of my time working with young 20-somethings in college. Most of my friends are under 30. Most of us, myself included, are driven by a sense of (almost-moral) obligation to be true to ourselves. But this inner-desire is a chimera: part lion, part dragon. Part good, part evil. It can drive us to profound narcissism, or profound faith. Let me first explain how the desire for self-discovery “dragonizes” us.

A few weeks ago I grabbed lunch with a friend, who recently heard a lecture on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

Maslow believed that a person could only self-actualize (i.e. become his authentic self) once his lower needs/desires were met. Amongst humanity’s most basic needs, my friend noticed sex. With great sincerity, he asked whether his choice to remain abstinent impaired his ability to actualize whom he really was.

Maybe you’ve asked, How can I be true to me, while repressing my desire? Isn’t it inauthentic, and even dangerous to suppress my sexual desires? To deny my feelings? To deny my ambitions? Or my drive for security and self-esteem? Isn’t all this repression dangerous? Without knowing why, we answer yes. Whether it’s sexuality, gender-performance, financial decision making, career choices, living arrangements, or relationship advice, we feel that following our heart is the safest route to self-actualization.

Our individualism confounds our problem. It transforms the pursuit of the good life from a community discussion into an individual pursuit. Becoming the real me, requires me to do it by my own ideas about right and wrong, good and bad, worthy or unworthy. Subjectivism is a moral imperative. Who am I to tell someone else what will or will not make their life worthwhile? That’s an individual pursuit! We disregards the great systems for communal meaning making: religion, philosophy and history. These are old shackles, full of unhelpful taboos and rules.

Our lives become flat and narrow, because no one outside of myself, no story outside of myself, no community beyond my brain, really matters. It’s about me finding me, inside of me. There’s another word for this: hell.

I don’t say that lightly. But I’ve lived this hell, where I try to find something inside of me that isn’t there. I ended up, like Milton’s Satan, trying to make a heaven out of my inner-self, when heaven only existed outside myself.

Of course, this is the classic predicament of a dragon. In old germanic myth, a person could become a dragon if he constantly sought himself, his own good, his own wealth (thus the dragon’s horde), at the expense of others. A dragon tries to make a heaven on earth, in himself. He is narcissism incarnate. A dragon is the personification of trying to find the real you, by seeking inside of you.

The Bible says that the way to find your true self, is to die. Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:33).

What’s fascinating is that Jesus doesn’t exactly say don’t seek your life. We know that because he’s telling us how to keep our lives. Namely, by losing them. So Christ’s point isn’t that it’s wrong to want to find the true you; he’s saying you’ll never the true you by seeking yourself. You can only find the true you, by dying to yourself, and finding life in him. The only way to self-actualiztion, is self-sacrifice. This is an inversion of Maslow’s hierarchy. This reveals two things about true authenticity.

1. True authenticity isn’t simply giving in to my desires. True authenticity is an expansion of ourselves, such that we seek our happiness in the happiness and well-being of others. I’ll never find me inside of me, but I might find who I am by sacrificing myself for others.

2. True authenticity can only be found in our relationship with our creator. When you can talk to the person who made you, it’s far easier to understand what you were made for and who you are. Our creator often calls us to deny our desires, not because he’s spiteful, but because he’s loving. He doesn’t want sin to hurt us or destroy us; he wants us to actualize the full blessings of life.

Take our sexual desires for example. Today we think it’s a virtue to express those desires however we like (so long as no one is hurt). But God says, “I made sex. I made it to draw a husband and wife alone, into the deepest human relationship possible. If you want sex to bring life and blessing, then use it as I made it.”

Thus, I return to my original question: is it wrong to be on a journey to find the true you? Well, no. But the path to the true you is narrow and unexpected. The trail is called self-denial. Pain paves it. But in the end we are freed from vanity: trying to find ourselves in ourselves. We are freed to be who we were made to be. That’s the true you.

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