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.