The Fallacy of Self Discovery

Metaphors give shape to mystery, and the metaphor of self-discovery has driven me to try many new things, like going to Asia to live a monastic life. However, it is this exact metaphor that has driven me around in circles – chasing an ideal that did not yet exist.

Discovery carries an implicit suggestion that, somewhere in our mind’s recesses or in data outside the mind, there is something waiting to be discovered. For a writer, the metaphor of discovery pushes forward that writing is a way to bring that something out. But recently I’ve been exposed to the idea that using this metaphor to teach the creative process bears its own limitations.

Because discovery emphasizes the rather glamorous experience of “Eureka, now I see it,” it obscures the fact that writers don’t find meanings, they make them.

A writer in the act of discovery is hard at work searching memory, forming concepts, and forging a new structure of ideas, while at the same time trying to juggle all the constraints imposed by his or her purpose, audience, and language itself. – Linda Flower and John R. Hayes

The idea of self-discovery has become such a sexy experience to be sought for that we’ve lost sight of what it means to create meaning ourselves. What do I mean by this? We aren’t born with shit, and we’re the ones responsible for creating the meaning we are searching for. Someone asked me what I discovered about myself during my stay in monasteries in Asia. Did you discover that you are more introverted than extroverted? Did you discover that you like meditation? Did you discover the meaning of life? 

I call bullshit. Your “true self” isn’t out there floating in winter wonderland waiting to be magically “discovered.” But to your last question, I did discover the meaning of life. I discovered that the very path you’re walking now will determine how you will end up in the future. You aren’t living your life to “discover” what you want to ultimately become. Every second you are alive, you are creating the tale of your life. If you’re doing X, Y, and Z everyday but expect to see something different in the mirror when you wake up, you’ll be in for a surprise. What you’ll see is what you’ll get. Whether it’s going to suck or not though is a completely different story.

Discovering your passions by trying out a bunch of random things sounds like a crapshoot to me. I strongly believe that you create your own passions. The more you commit to something, the more meaning you will create – then you will have discovered your passion. But this passion wasn’t hiding in the “deep recesses of your mind”, it had not even existed until you took the steps to create it.

The myth of discovery implies a method, and this method is based on the premise that hidden stores of insight and ready-made ideas exist, buried in the mind of the writer, waiting only to be “discovered.” Or they are to be found in books and data if only the enterprising researcher knows where to look. What does one do when a ready-made answer can’t be found in external sources? The myth says, “look to your own experience.” But what happens when a writer on this internal voyage of discovery still can’t “find” something to say because his or her “ideas” as such are not actually formed? – Linda Flower and John R. Hayes

So is there a method to self discovery?

I must disagree.

What does one do when a ready-made answer can’t be found in external sources? Well, shit. I’ve felt the exact same way when I first came to college. Nobody grew up like me, nobody thought in the same way I was thinking. How was I going to find my “why” in college? The myth says “look to your own experience.” But that felt like randomly casting a fishing hook out into the ocean, waiting for something to bite. I was frantically searching through my experiences to find an answer, when in fact the answer had never actually formed in the first place.

Growing up is strange, but don’t commit your effort searching for meaning and self-discovery. Because chances are, you’ll have to create those discoveries yourself.


 

Check out the paper: The Cognition of Discovery: Defining a Rhetorical Problem

Don’t Pursue Your Dreams

2015 has been the worst year of my life. My mother stopped speaking to me. I had thrown her high expectations of me going to a big reputable school out the window. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do anymore.

I didn’t know what I was supposed to do anymore.

One time she turned to me “what are you doing with your  life?” Then I turned inside, at myself “what am I doing with my life?”

All this time throughout high school, I was pursuing my dreams. I took every AP science test, I studied for the SATs, I was the president of an active club. I was lining up the dots, I was pursuing my dreams! Even though it was tough at times, I knew exactly what I was supposed to do.

Self Reflection

After high school, I thrust myself into a world of unknown. Not the unknowns of science, not the unknowns of somebody else’s world – but the unknowns of my own world. And it was empty. I looked around, and I only saw other people. Billionaires glorified in the Silicon Valley. Doctors my parents wanted me to become. I couldn’t even see my own reflection in my own body. Four years ago, this would have been great, even comforting. I just had to follow what other people told me to do, continue to meet the expectations other had for me, then I would be successful.

But now, it was scary. It was scary because I decided to make my own path. I couldn’t find a set tutorial on Google. I couldn’t figure out what to do next like how I followed YouTube tutorials to solve the Rubik’s cube. Even on Quora, I would read stories of all these successful people, but none of them would exactly match mine. In high school, I thought I was making myself stand out and be unique, but in the bigger picture, I was just doing what everybody else was doing. So it was time to buckle down and really figure out why I’m doing things.

Don’t pursue your dreams, pursue your purpose.

Dreams derive from the successful people around you. Purpose derives from self reflection. Pursuing a purpose means that even when shit hits the fan, when you lose everything, when nobody is around to watch, you keep going because that’s the only thing you truly have. The way we teach goals and dreams are wrong. Dreams are tied to professions, salaries, fames. We teach and motivate kids to become doctors, lawyers, when that can result in them mindlessly working for the rest of their lives. Since purposes are not domain specific they can permeate to any profession, daily routines, relationships with other people, attitude towards life – ultimately every aspect of life. The people whose purposes are so strong you can feel it in every interaction with them are the ones that are interesting. And I’m starting to understand what it means to become interesting (it’s the title of my blog!)

Understand the underlying patterns in the things you actually do

I enjoy putting myself through challenges: physical, mental, philosophical, and this has become extremely evident in the types of books I’ve been reading, the kinds of people I follow on Quora, and the things I like to talk about. I enjoy learning new things, especially when I can not currently see myself able to do those things. So my purpose is mastering the hard challenges I see in myself now, and also those that I have yet to encounter. For me, realizing this purpose feels like there is no other way for me to live. The purpose of my life, of my humanity is to master the hard things. Get defeated, maybe even discouraged by the new challenges that arise, then do it again.

So 2015 has been the worst year of my life. 2016, 2017, 2018, … will also be the worst years of my life. They will suck so much because every new day, every new year, I will be questioning what I’m doing. They will suck because I won’t always have the answers. The coming years will suck and be hard because that’s exactly how I want to live.

Now I encourage you to self reflect, you will have to for the rest of your life. Ask why you are doing things, then what you are going to do now. When you can’t find the answers, create your own answers, then share them.

 


 

 

I feel my poem The Cave is especially relevant to this, so feel free to read:

The Cave
It’s the world’s most comfortable place
Comfort zones suck they say, we have to get out
It’s not as simple as it sounds though
It’s not as simple as “stepping out”
It’s so engrained into our brains
It’s engrained in the very essence of our society
Meritocracy, bureaucracy, even our beloved democracy
Each world has a cave of its own
With prizes, titles, time slots to play in a Carnegie Hall recital
To become the president, get tenure, become Silicon Valley’s next billionaire
To enter the elite bubble, stay up there in the untouchable haven
Finding a job will be easy, I’ll have money, It’s so great to be at the top
It’s every high schoolers dream to penetrate those bubbles into Cambridge and New Haven
I know that’s when I’ll have everything on lock
I had to step out my comfort zone to get there
What’s wrong with that?
Nothing is. After all, all we really can see are those dancing shadows
We choose our cave, climb to the top, fight our uphill battles
There really isn’t anything wrong with that though,
People live such happy lives basing it on that
But maybe it’s the comfort of climbing that has made those caves so damn binding