Inner Space
Hi, I’m Diana Demco and this is the Inner Space newsletter about my reflections on living an examined life. If you're new, you can find old editions here. You're getting this email because you signed up on my website. If you'd like to unsubscribe, click here.
In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig wrote:

If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and act and think like you. Aim to be the truest version of you.

While I resonate with the feeling and understand where this line of thinking is coming from, today I'd like to challenge the idea that we need to continue being "who we are."

I've talked before about the importance of being who you (already) are, and I still stand by that. I believe we would benefit from leaning more into the innate positive traits and inclinations that are present in each of us.

However, talking about "being who you are" always implies tapping into our "authenticity," which isn't a clear-cut concept, as psychology studies show. As much as self-help wizards swear by the power of embracing your "true" self, it's likely such an entity doesn't exist.

And I'd like to propose that's not such a bad thing. The concept of authenticity in itself is not harmful, and can even help us make better decisions that align with our values. But, as with everything that has to do with human psychology, we can twist an innocent idea into a destructive pattern.

Oftentimes, we understand the encouragement to be authentic as a license to never change. To remain the same. To behave in the exact manner as the past. This, coupled with our tendency for existential inertia and operating on "autopilot" can result in actions that reflect who "we think we should be," precisely because we've already been that person. However, it's a powerful lesson to realize that we're under no obligation to be who we used to be. We don't owe it to others, and we don't even owe it to ourselves. In fact, many times we can benefit from going against "our history" and taking a different path.

It's sad, but most people live simply by conforming everyday to the image they created of themselves. I've first encountered this idea a while ago when I heard neuroscientist Sam Harris say that "we are the world champions of being who we were yesterday." Let that sink in.

In his essay titled Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson challenges our assumption that we must never contradict ourselves:

But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day.

He encourages us to treat each day like it's a new one, to leave behind "the corpse of memory" so we can embrace a new way of being.

So I invite you to escape the tyranny of the past. Dare to betray your "true" self and do things that contradict its image. Chances are, if you feel inclined to do so, it's because that self image doesn't feel so "authentic" anyway.

Timeless Content

How People Change
The Marginalian | 6 minute read
This article is the perfect companion to today's topic. In it, author Maria Popova beautifully weaves together her own observations with Allen Wheelis' quotes from his book How People Change, exploring the complex interactions between freedom, "fate" and choice. If you've ever wondered whether outside circumstances or the inner will shape an individual, this article will be like a fountain of wisdom, which might just quench your thirst for knowledge.

Picture of the Week

Quote I'm Reflecting On

Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön on how to approach your thoughts:

Every time your stream of thoughts solidifies into a heavy story line that seems to be taking you elsewhere, label that “thinking.” Then you will be able to see how all the passion that’s connected with these thoughts, or all the aggression or all the heartbreak, is simply passing memory. If even for a second you actually had a full experience that it was all just thought, that would be a moment of full awakening.

Source: Start Where You Are

Question For You To Ponder

If you keep doing what you're doing, will you end up where you want to be?
Thank you for reading.

Until next time,
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