You’d think at first glance that being yourself is an easy topic that all of us could master. The truth is a little bit more complicated.
For the most part how we act isn’t actually who we are, but rather a facade generated by things like heuristic thinking [See: The Prestige Myth] and social gaming [See: Theory of Social Games]. We know with just a little bit of introspection who we want to be, what we want to do, how we want to act — but this perspective is obfuscated by mindset, social rules, and understandings of “how you ought to be”. Many times the person who wants to be an artist doesn’t, because it doesn’t make any money (social pressure), so they become a business consultant (prestige heuristic) and end up working 100 hours a week, ignoring art because “they’ll do it when they have free time” (fixed mindset). Many such cases.
We follow these ideals because we believe that there is an inherent “risk” with being ourselves. But what risk is there? Why is there such a strange blindness towards making art for the sake of art, and not as an occupation? What is with our insistence that the only jobs worth fighting for are the ones that give the lowest amount of value? Why do we stop ourselves from doing things now, as opposed to later?
It is likely because we become paralyzed. It is the greatest fear of all people, that they have infinitely-many decisions but only one life. In the parlance of the 2010s, YOLO — except in this case YOLO is less of a fun bit and more of a crippling existential realization. You only live once, and if you live wrong then you’ve failed. In the words of Richard Feynman: “You only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and you learn what not to do, and that’s the end of you.”.
But why think that there is a better path beyond aligning yourself to your own interests? Don’t you know how to make yourself the most happy? Perhaps not in every case — those who haven’t done much introspection probably don’t know the answer off the top of their head. But what’s wrong with experimenting, with finding out the answer?
I would say that dabbling from one thing to the other for the sake of dabbling is bad. I would say dabbling with a purpose in mind — to find out who you are — is much different. Our society rewards people for having it all figured out from the beginning. In reality, no one has it all figured out from the beginning. We all lose this game! The only way to win is to shed off this societal conscience and go and do what you damn well please. Have a plan — have a backup plan as well — but don’t wait. Just do it.
One last thing. People stuck in the loop don’t like people who stray out of it. It’s why you see articles like “You shouldn’t write a book” or “Living freelance is near impossible” or “Entrepreneurship is stupid and you should feel stupid for thinking you can do that”. Are they wrong? Well, no. Not really. But pay attention — very close attention — to how they’re defining their words. When they tell you not to write a book, they’re saying it’s because it doesn’t make any money. But are you writing a book to be rich, or are you writing a book because you always wanted to? They complain that the destination is impossible. But is the destination what you want? Or does being you really have to do with living in the journey?