People around me keep on saying the phrase "I want to take some time to find myself". And yes, admittedly I have said that phrase at some point myself. As a next step, people would go off on holiday, spend some time at a retreat or visit their families. But rarely have I heard anybody say "I just found myself when I was in China / at the retreat / at my parents' house!". At some point, when yet another of my friends was about to search herself, I couldn't help but wonder how the hell we have lost ourselves? And does this entire paper chase for ourselves make much sense at all?
To begin with, I would like to question whether anybody has lost himself or herself at all. Yes, that is the feeling that people have, so there must be something wrong. But what is it? Personally, I think the main reason is a lack of bottom-of-the-pyramid problems. I'm talking about Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy says that humans have a tendency to focus mostly on the lowest need that has not yet been fulfilled. The most fundamental needs are physiological needs (water, food, sleep), then comes safety followed by love and belonging. The two least fundamental needs are esteem and self-actualisation.
In my opinion, Maslow's hierarchy of needs is the ideal visualisation of a mindset that is constantly focused on new problems. We just don't function the way that we satisfy our basic needs and live happily ever after, but we move on to the next problem. So what am I aiming at? My view is basically that the reason why me and my peers are so obsessed with self-realisation is simply that most other problems are already solved. In a way, there is nothing left to worry about apart from self-search. My point is not that people should not strive for self-realisation, but that they should also appreciate what they have reached already. I'm sure this will bring about some peace of mind.
A second issue is the dilemma of choice that my generation is facing. And this holds true in many aspects of our lives. There are too many jobs to choose from, too many leisure activities and too many potential partners. On the one hand, it is certainly a nice thing to be able to choose what you like. But on the other hand, it increases our responsibility for our own happiness. As a result, we feel paralysed under the burden to make the right decisions. We start to hope that if we knew who we really are, all those choices would become easier. But is this the case? Wouldn't it be wiser to decrease the emphasis on individual choices instead? Maybe it doesn't actually matter that much which university or job we choose, but it is more about making the best of whatever decision we took?
Last but not least, I really wonder whether the search for ourselves is a reasonable pursuit at all. Let me explain. First of all, it presupposes that there is something like a real me. Something that is the essence of our being. Our real values, our real interest, our ideal role in this world. But what if that is simply not the case? I recently came across the quote "Life isn't about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself" (G.B. Shaw). What I like about the quote is that it shifts the attention away from something already existent to something in progress. It points out that the true self is emergent. It can't be found, because it is yet to be determined. In away you could say the attempt to find yourself is as absurd as the attempt to get hold of a photo of yourself taken in 2020.
In the bottom line, thinking about this topic left me with three things that seem to make more sense than self-search:
1. Focus also on what you have reached (bottom-of-pyramid needs) and not only on things that are lacking (self-realisation)
2. Don't be paralysed by choices.
3. Be pro-active, create yourself.