What does it mean to “find your self”?
I don’t mean find yourself. I mean find your self. Who are you, actually? What do you, alone, value?
For most of my life I lived as a surrogate for the ideas and values of other people. My actions and reactions would reflect the values of the people around me, not those from within myself. Not much genuinely came from within myself, and when something did, it didn’t feel meaningful and I didn’t trust it.
Most people live their entire lives this way. They equate meaning and happiness to external sources like a grade, a title, or something that gives them value–only in the eyes of others. A perfect example of this can be found in American University culture.
Universities are branded as revolutionary places where original ideas are valued above everything else. They are made out to be the place where people go to challenge themselves intellectually and develop their individuality.
Anybody who has been to college knows that this is far from the truth. The professors and faculty might persist in upholding this claim verbally and on paper, but in reality this is at best a secondary influence for the student. The primary influence is the approval of peers. The incentives to earn the approval of peers are much higher than the incentives to actually do well in classes.
Being noticed, liked, and admired are all things that stem primarily from the mind of somebody else. You cannot be noticed, liked, and admired if you are alone, and only with yourself. But you can be happy, honest, and fulfilled.
It is OK to value things that stem from outside of your self. In fact, it’s healthy to care about the perception of you that other people hold–to a certain degree. The danger comes when you value things externally above the values that come from within your own self. This is where I lost my self. I confused shallow values attached to external conditions for unchanging, internal values, and so my self was no different from the collective selves of everyone around me.
So how do you “find your self”?
Start by questioning everything you value. If you value the approval of others, ask your self why. If you value producing objectively good work, ask your self why. If you value reading a certain book, ask your self why. If you value wearing a certain shirt, ask your self why.
The things your self values are often things that are kept private. You don’t feel the need to share something you value deeply because it doesn’t matter if other people value it.
A few months ago, I was talking to a friend of mine about an idea for a book I had. The concept for this book had been swirling around in my head for over a month, gaining clarity every day. I felt good about it, and I felt like I had explored it pretty deeply.
When I told him about it, he told me he had written about a similar idea before and wanted to share some insights that might help me out.
He went on to send me 6 articles and blog posts that he had written, all exploring the very idea I had considered my own.
The first reaction was discouragement, because the idea that I had taken ownership of seemed to have already been explored by someone else. It lost its value because it wasn’t unique to me. Questions popped up in my mind that I hadn’t thought of before.
Is it worth sharing this if someone else has already understood and shared this topic? Will my work be irrelevant since it’s already been done? Is there a point in sharing it?
These questions lead me to an important realization:
People don’t own ideas.
Any idea you’ve thought of has probably been thought of by another human at some point in time. We’re all humans. We share a lot of the same struggles, so naturally we share a lot of the same thoughts.
Ideas float around. They are available to everyone with a brain. It’s easy to think of a good idea. It doesn’t cost anything to think of a good idea. So why are some people better than others, if all the same ideas are available to everyone? What separates people?
Action. People own execution.
50 people can have the same brilliant business idea, but the one who executes it is the one who owns it. Nobody can execute an idea in the same way you can. Each human, even with the same idea, will bring the idea into reality in their own unique way.
People don’t own ideas. People own execution.
If I could go back to my 18-year-old self and give one piece of advice, it would be this:
Figure it out.
Figuring out how to figure things out is the simplest, hardest, most important skill (attitude, mindset, call it what you want) that you can develop to make yourself better.
Don’t let your lack of specific hard skills keep you from committing to something exciting. We move from ledge to ledge, paralyzed with indecision and the belief that we aren’t prepared enough, too afraid to make a leap of faith. You don’t have to have the required skills to commit to doing something amazing.
You can figure it out. Relying on skills that you think you need but don’t have will land you on a never ending chase after the untouchable.
Otherwise, make an excuse and stare at the problem you have while doing nothing.
You will never be prepared enough to have the full confidence to do something worth doing. The timing will never be right. You will never have enough credentials or external support. It’s easier to default to “Once I have X, then I can do what I really want.” X is simply something you value less than the thing you really want. It is easier to chase X than what you really want because failure is acceptable. If you fail to achieve X, you never even wanted X in the first place. You wanted something else.
Betting on yourself is much harder. People skirt around the truth before decisively choosing to be bold, take a risk, and bet on their ability to figure it out on the spot.
The harsh reality is that sometimes you won’t be able to figure it out. You’ll get yourself into a situation where you either have to swallow your pride and ask for help or failure is inevitable. The other part of this reality is that if you care about what you’re doing, most of the time you will figure it out.
I used to book up house-painting jobs before I knew how to hold a paintbrush. I was confident enough in front of customers to book big jobs, not because I gave off the appearance of a veteran painter, but because I knew I had the ability to figure it out when I got to that point. I showed the customer that I was on top of my shit. I owned the project. They didn’t have to worry whether or not I knew how to paint, they assumed I did because I assumed I could learn it.
Then, 2 months later, I would be standing on the job site with my crew, painting that house. My painters didn’t know how to paint either. They assumed I knew. So, when they ran into a problem, they would ask me what to do, as if I had faced this exact type of challenge before. I hadn’t. So what did I do?
I figured it out. I found a way.
I used my brain with all its current knowledge and experience to solve the problem to the best of my ability, in that moment. I didn’t know what the end would look like when I began solving the problem, but I figured it out as I went. Sometimes my current skills and experience were enough, and the solution just required some experimentation on the spot. Sometimes, I couldn’t figure it out at all, and I had to call someone to ask for help. Sometimes, I couldn’t call anyone and I was stuck with failure. Either way, I figured it out.
Every small or large obstacle can be moved or skirted. There is always, always, always, always, always a way.
Finite and Infinite Games is a playful philosophical book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It felt like watching a really good TV show, where you just can’t wait to see what happens next.
There are two types of games: finite games and infinite games. Both exist in the real world. Finite games are played within set rules, or boundaries, and they have a clear beginning and a clear end. Finite games are played for the purpose of ending the game and declaring a winner and a loser. Winners earn titles once the game is over. Finite games have an audience, which is what gives the title its power. Think of a game of chess or a game of football.
“One does not win by being powerful; one wins to be powerful. I can therefore have only what powers others give me.”
Infinite games have no beginning and no end. Infinite games have rules and boundaries, but they are not played within rules and boundaries. In fact, infinite players play with the rules and the boundaries of the game, not within them. Infinite play is played for the sake of continued play. There are no winners and losers–play is always continued, even in death.
Finite games are played within infinite games. Infinite players freely enter into finite games. If one must play, one cannot play. In entering into a finite game, as long as they are to play the game seriously, they must choose to forget that they have chosen to enter into a finite game.
Throughout the book, Carse describes finite games as theatrical and infinite games as dramatic.
In the middle of a finite game, where competition is high and one is playing to win, to forget that one is playing is to take the game seriously. To remember that one is playing is to remember that every action one takes is a playful part of a finite game within an infinite game, and one has chosen to play by certain rules for certain reasons. In remembering, one can no longer win or lose the game because the game itself loses its seriousness and becomes a playful act.
“All the limitations of finite play are self-limitations.”
The style is very unique. Throughout the entire book, Carse only states facts. He does not make any judgement calls or give advice for how one should live their lives. He only presents a vision of the world as infinite play and possibility, and lets you experience it to make your own judgement call.
Carse applies this playful vision of life through the lens of slavery, sex, politics, sports, death, nationalism, society, culture, and many other facets of life.
This post depicts an outlook on life strongly influenced by this book, since I was in the middle of reading it when the events in the post happened.
One of my major takeaways is that I am an infinite player in the game of life. In any finite game I find myself playing, whether it’s building a business, the laws of government, or romantic relationships, I must periodically remind myself that I have chosen to play it freely. I am always able to act freely and enter into or exit out of any finite game. Some finite games are beneficial, and some are not.
“The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in learning to start something we cannot finish.”
This book heightened my sense to detect when to keep playing the game and when to stop.
I didn’t really have a New Years Resolution this year. I couldn’t pin down one thing I wanted to do. I wanted to do a lot of things, so I figured I’d just do things consistently, track them well, and see what happens.
Here’s the spreadsheet I made at the beginning of the month:
I wanted to meditate more, I wanted to read more, and I wanted to write more. I also wanted to write more thank you cards… but I gave that one up after 3 days. I’m OK with that.
I missed 2 days of meditation, and 3 days of writing. I’m also OK with this (although the worst part is the blank spaces messing up the continuity of the spreadsheet). I ended up writing a total of 33 times in 31 days, since I wrote multiple times in a single day several times.
Here are my writing results:
- 20 blog posts on my personal site
- 3 Praxis blog posts
- 10 Quora posts
What did I learn?
Tracking things daily is not that hard.
After you firmly decide what you want to do, it becomes ingrained in your subconscious after a few days. I didn’t really need to check the spreadsheet, but it felt satisfying to add another “x” in the column. It also made it more stressful for me to miss a day.
Sometimes you’re wrong.
I thought I wanted to do thank you cards every day. I could have done it, and it would definitely be valuable for me. For some reason it didn’t feel as important as the other 3 items, so I cut it and decided to focus on the others.
You will mess up.
If you’re consistently doing things, you will mess up. The only way you won’t screw anything up is if your ideas stop at the perfect picture you create in your head. Perfection is impossible in reality. But reality is impossible without action.
While I did miss 2 days of meditating and 3 days of writing, my results and growth were exponentially better than if I hadn’t decided to do and track these things daily. Patting myself on the back for now.
I like reading a lot more than I thought.
If you talked to me 3 years ago, I would have told you I’m just not good at reading. Now I realize that’s bullsh*t. I refused to read because I was so used to being forced to read certain books in school. When I freely decide to read on my own, and I get to choose which books I want to read based on what interests me at that time, it becomes a creative party in my brain.
This month I found myself reading as procrastination, when I used to procrastinate reading.
I won’t be blogging much in February. I’ll still be writing every day, though, for a February project (stay tuned).
I’ll still be reading every day. I enjoy it too much to stop (plus I need to finish all the books I’ve started).
I’ll still be meditating every day. I enjoy the 5-10 minutes of silence every morning. It allows me to practice forgetting and redirecting my focus consciously.