Finding vs Creating Yourself

19 June 2013. Filed under category Life.
Find Yourself

Find Yourself

“Have you found yourself?”

I am often asked that question after explaining my nomadic journey. It is such a common question that I wonder if there is some pavlovian conditioning at work. We seem obsessed with finding ourselves. Large forests have been cut down to create mountains of self-help books expounding on the need to find ourselves. Oprah inspired millions of people to bravely venture into the TV in search of themselves.

Superficially, it is a cute analogy. A man feels that he isn’t living his true life and so begins a life of travel in search of his real self, as if my true self was patiently waiting on some tropical beach or perhaps lying prostrate in a Chinese opium den.

But I take umbrage to this turn of phrase. I do not believe in the existence of a ‘real’ self, waiting to be discovered. The idea reeks of fatalism. If there is a true self for which we can search, then it must be static and preordained. It is as if the world is a jigsaw puzzle and this elusive ‘self’ is a man-shaped hole in the puzzle named ‘destiny’. Finding and fulfilling this destiny then becomes the motivation to explore ourselves and the world, but this motivation is external, in control of us rather than the other way around. It suggests that we are not complete before we find this destiny and once found there is no reason to explore and change anymore as there are no alternative selves to go looking for.

Create Yourself

Create Yourself

So if I am not out there searching for myself, what am I doing? I am actively evolving, one change at a time, experimenting with new experiences and ways of life, discarding the bad and incorporating the good. There is no end goal at which point I can stop evolving. As I grow older, I can shed the aspects of my life that no longer fits as a snake sheds an outgrown skin. My motivation does not come from a preordained destiny but from a desire within to live many different lives and experience all that this world has to offer. It is up to me to direct and shape my own life in any way I desire. I am not meant to do anything and thereby I am free to do any-and-everything. And thus, step-by-step, I am creating myself.

One final difference between someone searching for himself and someone in continuous evolution is their views on sunk costs, and here I’d like to use a concrete example from my own life. When I decided to become a nomad, I had spent the last ten years studying and working my way up the corporate ladder. I had an identity grounded in my work as a software engineer at an investment bank.

If I had thought that we have a place in the world, a destiny or a self, for which we should search, then leaving my life in London would have been traumatic. I would have to think of those ten years as wasted time during which I came no closer to finding myself.

But that was not how I thought about it. There is no self to be discovered, only experiences to be had and lives to be lived. My corporate 9-6 job was no longer filling me with awe and it was no longer teaching me new things. I let it go to evolve into something different and more rewarding. I have no regrets. My former life is a valued experience, and it remains so because I left it when it was no longer right for me. When the day comes that the nomadic life no longer fits me, I will do the same again.

Life is a journey absent destination.

Travel Updates

I spent ten days in London, visiting friends. It was 18 months since I had been there, and much had changed, although most remains just the same. I then returned to my hometown, Ljungby, just in time for this year’s Storytelling Festival. I’ve written about the festival before. As always, my mum and I overdose on stories. This year, we spent 35 hours across 31 performances, the longest day packing 12 hours.

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Are you actively creating or evolving your life?

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  1. Karl says:

    I completely and wholeheartedly agree with you on this Gustav, I am now only two weeks away from beginning my own nomadic adventures, I have sold my car, my motorcycle and disposed of a lot of stuff. Bureaucracy is in order and tickets booked.

    I am not finding myself, I have just become stagnant in my own corporate world. I do not consider my previous academic pursuits a loss, nor my time here, I consider them part of my journey. I am leaving behind a large group of awesome friends, a series of awesome experiences, but it is time I found the next set of challenges and adventures.

    As I explain to more people in my organisation that my last day at work is next Friday I am greeted with the same question, am I “finding myself” I’ve said a few times that I’m not lost, I’m currently located at (I quote my current latitude and longitude – I work for a scientific spatial organisation, so we are all that type of nerd) and people sometimes look at me with a slight degree of disdain, others just say that in going overseas I will find myself, even if I don’t know it yet.

    I’m not lost, but I am in need of a new adventure.

    1. You and I sound quite similar. I wish you the very best of luck with your new adventure. Expect it to be tumultuous at first. It is in that initial chaos that new opportunity lies.

  2. Kimera says:

    The question of have you found yourself applies to those that have “lost” themselves. Those that have “lost” their way in the woods of life. The ones that hit 30 and get their mid-life crisis on. The ones that were pushed into who they are today and don’t like it. Those that did not take an active hand in who they are.

  3. J. says:

    The nice thing about evolution is that it occurs whether we desire it or not, and whether we are nomadic or not. Sometimes we do have the option of slowing it down, but we can never stop the process whether biologically or metaphorically…

    PS: keep your prostate out of Opium Dens!)

  4. Crys Klier-Hoffman says:

    Yay, this entry is so on target. I constantly say I am evolving. That’s what life is about. I can happily say I am in a much better place, in my head, at this moment than when I was much younger, gravity had not done its dirty work and I could see many years ahead of me. I expect to continue to evolve until I die and then, my ashes will take over the process for me. Allowing this natural evolution is freeing and I only wish I had stopped pushing myself to BE something other than my true self years ago. Now I just open myself to what may come and I have reached the point of looking for ways to evolve. Not to say I don’t still have some fears ,old habits die hard, but I am on the path not to finding myself but just to being ME.

  5. jamie says:

    hehe, i think any nomad will go for the the creating, for once you found your self, well you gota create what you thought you would of found.

  6. Wade says:

    Wonderfully refreshing way to think about things! The way I see it, there is no reason to look back at past endeavors with regret, because everything that happens in life grows and evolves you into a more well rounded person!

  7. Liz says:

    The notion of “finding yourself” is one that’s always puzzled me, but that seems to be thrown around a lot in your 20s.

    “Oh, are you finding yourself?” would be the question posed when I’d inform friends and acquaintances that I was pausing from my degree for a semester to do shit that I considered fun and interesting. (Note, my family never really purloined the phrase, and so never really use it in anything other than jest…which probably explains my ineptitude in applying it.)

    “Umm. No. I’m pretty sure I’m right here…with me…like I always am.” It’s really only over a decade later that I realise that a truckload of people think you have to follow a pre-determined career path to have a life.

    So I struggle filling out tick-a-box job applications that are obviously designed for people who’ve followed a rather prescribed existence (school , university , didn’t take any semesters off because nothing in your life exploded despite your best efforts… or you can fudge it thusly …and so it goes on). Actually, tick-a-box lives seem more ridiculous the older you get.

    1. jamie says:

      sounds just like me in my mid 20’s, always annoyed that every one else couldn’t understand the way i had chosen. well in 30’s now and first i care much less about other people to get annoyed at them living there little checkbox lives and all they seem to appreciate my choice more and even even seem jealous

  8. Stephanie W says:

    My morning coffee mug: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
    Excellent words Gustav.
    Even as a teenager I always said “Life is what you make it”. But I find that slightly heartless now. Each and every moment I am creating myself, even if it’s just making the choice to notice how I might have gone asleep to that. Wake up and smell who you really are…a creative being that came here to create this delicious, sensual experience, every moment. SO alive!

  9. Angie says:

    Thank you for the beautiful article & follow up comments. The timing couldn’t have been better for this gypsy.

  10. Ben says:

    Would be life about knowing yourself?
    I guess whether you talk about finding or creating yourself at an abstract level you want to know who you are.
    When you create yourself like you said, you select what s good or bad experiencing new things, so who decides what s good or bad and how do you decide unless you ask yourself who you are accordingly.
    “to know yourself is to know the universe”. I doubt anyone on earth can pretend that he knows the universe 🙂

    Good writing, thanks for sharing

  11. Rob says:

    I love this post, it really resonates with me and it is comforting to know that there are other people who feel this way.

    I am due to quit my job as a lawyer after 9 years in two weeks time, and am very nervous to be giving everything I know up, but also so inspired by what is to come.

    1. How exciting! My advise is to not take your own life too seriously, and allow for a few mistakes and setbacks if it frees you up to make decisions quicker and with a lighter heart. Life is there to be played with and experienced, not mastered.

Are you actively creating or evolving your life?

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