To err is human. We’ve all doubtless heard this phrase before, but in spite of its truth, who among us doesn’t still cling to a desire to achieve perfection, to become the people we were created to be? We all have dreams of becoming the best, truest version of ourselves; we want to be as kind, as generous, or as compassionate as possible, and we want to manifest such qualities in a manner that’s reflective of our distinct selves.
Examining our lives and becoming more of who we are, however, is easier said than done. While we can look to role models and other women to show us how to live well, the fact that each of us has never existed before and will never exist again means that no one else can quite show us who we are as individuals or who we were born to be.
If we are to live as our truest selves, we must become something we alone know.
The natural question, then, is how do we know who we ought to be? Too often we hear the message that with the right products, the right look, or the right attitude we can be anyone or anything we want. Yet, who we are cannot be defined by our clothing, our job, what we own or who we know. Our identities are not something to be chosen and created. Instead, they exist from the moment we come into being and are something to be discovered. Whether or not we choose to take the time and the effort to discover them, however, is our choice.
Though, if we do commit, distinguishing our true selves in light of the lies and confusion around us is a lifelong process beginning with a renewed practice of self-introspection. We can ask ourselves: What feels like us and what does not? Are there disparities between how we act when we’re alone versus with others? Which parts of our personalities feel most natural and uncontrived? Which bring us the most joy?
Of course, there are no black and white answers to these questions, but reflecting on them can help shed light on what resonates most with our core and what doesn’t. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote that “every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.” In other words, our true self is often hidden beneath the “false” personas that we’ve created for ourselves — the various “masks” we put on in our lives. These false selves stem from our egos, insecurities, and fear, while our true selves stem from a deep sense of peace, truth and love, and simply exist without thought or effort.
It might feel like a walk in the dark to rely on our own inner light instead of the examples around us to show us what’s true, but let us still strive to make being our authentic selves our aim, knowing that it’s more than just OK to “be ourselves.” To quote Merton once more: “Finally, I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am.”
When do you feel most like your true self? How do you distinguish between what’s true in yourself and what isn’t?