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How do I discover my true self?
January 26, 2022
There’s almost nothing more important than figuring out who you are meant to be, but how do you actually do it?
Authenticity is essential. As contemporary people, we believe that in order to flourish as human beings you have to be your authentic Self. You can’t allow the dictates or the opinions of others to control your life choices.
You need to be true to yourself and express your deepest desires—no matter what anyone else thinks.
On one level, this has probably always been true. There have always been people who were willing to break with convention in order to express “the real me” inside. But what is unique today is that people feel they must do this—that no aspect of their identity can go unexpressed—or their lives will somehow be wasted or unfulfilled. If you do not authentically express whatever lies deep within you, you might miss the whole point of your life. But this is harder to do than you might think.
It turns out seeking your own self-fulfillment through self-expression is more complicated than it seems. Let me give you three reasons why.
First of all, how do you determine your deepest desires? If you are honest, you know that your desires are constantly changing. How do you maintain a stable sense of self if you continually follow your most recent impulse? Your desires, like your feelings, are highly subjective and often fluctuate based on circumstance.
Second, your desires are not only constantly changing, but often conflicting. You want to give yourself entirely to your career, but then you fall in love with someone halfway across the globe. Or perhaps there are aspects of your dream job that are incompatible with your allegiance to some broader cause. How do you prioritize your desires? Which ones matter more? Are some dreams deeper than others?
Lastly, as much as you might say you don’t need anyone else to validate your choices, you can’t escape the need for some standard outside of yourself to help you determine what really matters. Just because you feel something is important, doesn’t mean it really is. The philosopher Charles Taylor has written that self-expression only makes sense against the backdrop of some shared sense of what is significant. You might be the only person with exactly 3,732 hairs on your head, but so what? You can’t just decide that the most important thing you can do with your life is wiggle your toes in warm mud. Without some kind of explanation, this doesn’t make any sense.
Here’s the issue. There’s almost nothing more important than figuring out who you are meant to be, but how do you actually do it? How do you discover your true self and find fulfillment despite the transitory and contradictory nature of your dreams and desires? The answer comes from an unexpected source.
On the one hand, it is true; you should not have to conform to the expectations of others because they don’t know you. They can’t see or understand the inner workings of your own heart. But on the other hand, it is also true; you can’t escape the need for some kind of objective standard of value.
Another way to put it is to say that what we human beings long for is to be known and loved at the same time. Some people know you, perhaps all too well, and that’s why they don’t love you. Other people love you, but you fear that’s because they don’t really know you. If they knew “the real you,” perhaps they wouldn’t love you any more.
The core message of Christianity is that the Creator God revealed in the person of Jesus knows you for who you really are—and loves you more than you could ever imagine.
God knows you—the real you. He knows what makes you unique and special because he made you. He sees the full potential in you. Only he can make you the greatest version of yourself. But he also knows those aspects of your personality and character that can cause more harm than good.
Yet the wonder of it all is that he still loves you—despite all your faults and failures—so much so that he was willing to give his life for you. Jesus is willing to do whatever it takes to transform you into the person that you were always destined to be.
So how do you discover your true self? If God knows you and yet loves you, then you only discover who you really are and who you are meant to be in light of who God is. Whatever God loves, desires and affirms within you forms the real you. Whereas everything that runs counter to his intentions for you will only serve to distort and misshape you.
That’s why Jesus famously said: “If you abide in my word…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In other words, you can only discover the truth of who you really are in relation to the God who knows you and loves you.