Continuing on my hippy fascination, one concept I encounter often with such people is that of the true self. It may also be called the ‘wisest self’, ‘authentic self’, or just your heart, but the meaning is the same – it’s the only part of you that it truly you, untainted by the influence of society, others, and even your own second thoughts. The argument goes that listening to this alone is the sole path toward true fulfillment.
If they’re right, that’s the most elegant way to solve the Be and Do dichotomy yet. An inner part of you that directs you to do things without any thought whatsoever? Then I could embrace my true self, and Be myself so authentically that anything I Do would be in tune.
Isn’t ‘True Self’ Just Intuition?
There’s a lot of voices in my head, and they don’t all say the same thing. There’s Freud’s Id and Superego, of course, but perhaps his ego is something like the ‘true self’. And there is scientific backing to the idea that your intuition is something worth trusting (Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, among others). Sounds like it boils down to trusting my gut, then.
However, my intuition has limited knowledge and is shaped by past experiences. Why should I trust an amateur like myself with a new and critical decision? I feel it would be foolhardy not to research the options and educate myself using the knowledge of experts and others who have gone before me
Here’s where it gets tricky. True Selfers would say that it depends on the person. Some people may immediately feel that one decision is better than the other, why others (like me) would want to research first. In my case, it’s my true self telling me to research first, and so doing that would be the best option for me, but not for all.
This sounds a lot like destiny, that old philosophical hack saying everything is predetermined and we have no free will. Heck, one of the smartest guys I know (Sam Harris, Stanford neurobiologist) believes that. Anything my true self tells me to do is the right thing for me to do, by definition? That strips me of all agency, making me a puppet who follows the strings of my true self wherever it goes.
No sane person would agree to do whatever someone else said, no matter what. But that’s the trick – the true self by definition is you, even more so than what you conceive you to be. It knows everything you do, has your best interests at heart, and makes decisions unconstrained by the opinions of others. You take care of all the rational thought and agonizing for it, leaving it (in theory) to make the best possible decision in a snap. I’d be an idiot to not listen to it, if that’s the case. I would be able to fulfill all my business goals by just being myself, since that’s what I am drawn to do.
Example: My ‘True Self’ in Action At Networking Events
I can’t deny that the concept of ‘relaxing into yourself’ has proven quite helpful to me recently, especially at networking events. These are normally quite goal-oriented affairs, much more businessman than hippy. How, then, does the true self fit in here?
Well, my true self loves networking events, no matter what anybody else tells me. Therefore it makes sense to attend. Who should I talk to? This is the biggest worry a networker has – opportunity cost. What if I spend my time talking to losers and not the power brokers at this event? What if someone else cuts a business deal at my expense? Is this conversational partner worth my time, or is there another out there who I should be talking with instead?
Of course, I safeguard against this through preparation – dressing remarkably, researching attendees beforehand, and strategically attending certain relevant meetups. This sure doesn’t sound like relaxing, but it’s what the authentic Corey would do, which also happens to be the best way to find good people.
The difference is that now I don’t worry. I trust my true self to have done everything it could to set the stage for success, and enjoy myself while at the event. I talk to people I want to talk to. I trust my intuition to decide who is worth talking to. If someone isn’t interesting, I politely say it was nice talking, and move on. If I get hungry or tired, I’ll eat or take a break. I do whatever feels comfortable and right, rather than trying to squeeze in as many contacts as possible. If I miss a power broker, so what? I did my best, and if they’re truly relevant, we’ll cross paths again somewhere else.
That’s what my ‘true self’ tells me to do. I trust myself to maximize the opportunity, because that’s what I do. Only a year ago, it would not have been possible for me to relax, only strive and plan. I suppose the argument would be that my true self back then was the one telling me to get better at networking, and now it has changed its tune.
Sigh – it all sounds so fatalistic. I cannot escape my true self – only embrace it! What if embracing it doesn’t bring me closer to my goals? Well, then, true selfers might say those were not the right goals for you after all. The true self, the only one you are comfortable with, will be perfect for you, but may seem ridiculous to others. Who cares? They don’t know the real you.
Are Hermit Mystics Being True to Themselves?
So, if your true self doesn’t care about what others think. What if someone’s authentic self gave no heed to society at all, never washing, growing everything out, and living in the dirt with no money? Sounds a lot like most gurus and mystics, no? Here we are back to the problem of Elle Luna, just more extreme. Such people follow their own paths to fulfillment, but in doing so, they stop contributing to the world of others (unless they teach). Surely the true self would be generous and caring towards others, and value the fulfillment of others as well?
There are very few people raised in Western democracies that end up like that, which makes me believe that your true self will probably not lead there unless you are born in the Himalayas. What does that say about the effect of culture on your wisest self, to which it is supposedly immune? Westerners say the ascetic monk was warped by his surroundings and is not 100% authentic, while Easterners say the same about our successful business titans. Does a true self vary across cultures?
I don’t know, but I know that my true self would never tell me to go into hermit mystic mode, so I’m not worried. And my true self tells me not to worry about the paths of others, since they have their own decisions to make, and I do not know what is best for them. All I can do is continue asking questions, and recognize that I will never have all the answers.
How do you feel about the concept of a ‘true self’? Is it New Age hogwash or is there something there?