“Finding Yourself” Is a Crock

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 17, 2008 · 112 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Cameron Ming. Check out his last guest post on Grilling the Perfect Steak.

I was watching a program on Caligula the other night. Most should remember Caligula as one of the most inhumane, blood-thirsty, and psychotic of all Roman emperors. On the program they pointed to a turning point in his reign where he sort of just cracked. He had started out fine but about six months in he turned wacko. Some of the more notable acts of lunacy included ordering the deaths of tons of people (including his cousin), proclaiming himself a god, and wanting to make his horse a consul. As most of these programs do, there were various experts and professors that gave their commentary on Caligula’s life. One gave her opinion as to why Caligula lost his marbles. She said – and this is the kicker – he never had a chance to “find himself.”

That’s right folks, the ensuing bloodbath was all because little Caligula never had a chance to really find out who he was. Whatever. I’m not an expert on Ancient Roman History and I’m no psychiatrist, but I think that’s absolutely the lamest excuse ever.

It’s nice to know that one of the stupidest tools of justification has made its way into the big leagues. Most of the time that I’ve heard, “Oh, I really think I just need to find myself,” it involves a 20-something kid that still can’t decide what they want to do with their life. It’s typically used as a cop-out to wriggle out of committing to a woman or as a cover to continue putting off any kind of real responsibility. It’s what man-boys tell themselves while they continue to play video games 7 hours a day, get smashed every weekend, and sleep with anyone that’s willing.

Human beings have the longest childhood and adolescence of any animal in the world. You spent 22 years finding yourself. You know what you like and what you don’t like. If you are still “finding yourself” after college, it’s because you’re afraid of commitment.

Now, I’m definitely not against really understanding one’s self and truly knowing who you are (the essence of “finding yourself”) – that’s all just fine. I think that’s the key to being happy. What I do think is that anyone who consciously states he is “finding himself” is a tool. I don’t think it’s something you sit down and decide. It just happens.

The irony is that the only way to actually find yourself is by embracing commitment. I learned way more about who I really am after suffering through hardcore adversity and taking on massive responsibility than I ever have by taking some “me” time. I think that’s what real men do. You find out what you are made of and who you really are when the fight starts. Not by playing video games and sleeping around. That type of “finding yourself” is a largely selfish prospect and is ultimately detrimental to developing acceptable social skills. No real growth can come from it.

So to say that Caligula lost his marbles and banished his wife and killed his father-in-law because he never had a chance to find himself is a pretty weak argument. I’d just say he wasn’t a man and couldn’t handle the pressure.

Here are some legitimate ways a man can truly find himself:

1) Commit to a Relationship: I don’t care if it’s a puppy or a plant (but better if it’s a human), being in a relationship where someone depends on you requires you to sacrifice and make time – both things that will help you to prioritize your life and learn respect for others.

2) Get a Job and Keep it: If you’re over 22 and daddy is still paying your rent and bills, something is wrong. Get a job and make your own way. And don’t quit if it gets hard. Stick it out and be respectful to your boss and coworkers. I’ve learned a ton about myself by how I handle tense moments at work, not during a sweet 8 on 8 halo battle with my buddies. My sick Halo skills haven’t been responsible for any increase in my salary…yet.

3) Do Service for Someone that Really Needs it: Giving of yourself and your time is always nice, but to do it for someone that really needs it makes you feel all nice inside. And try this – see how long you can go without telling anyone about it. I was watching a show the other night where this millionaire kept bragging about how many poor families he fed last year. He didn’t even try to be discrete about it. Made me question his motives. If you keep it quiet then it’s truly for you and the other person. No one else needs to know.

4) Get Married: I truly believe that personal progression plateaus at a certain point. You can only do so much on your own. When you feel reasonably comfortable with yourself – it’s time to get married. No matter how awesome you thought you were when you were single, if approached properly, marriage will make you a better man. Nothing in this world has made me grow more than the honest and complete commitment I made, and continue to make, to my wife.

5) Start a Family: If you thought marriage was a test – kids will blow your mind. Not only have I learned patience, understanding, and how to handle complete frustration when dealing with my son, I have never been more aware of my virtues and flaws than when I see myself in his little actions. I have become keenly aware of my own personality as I see him reflect the behavior that he was either born with or has learned because of me. Talk about finding myself – there’s a little version of me running around my house.

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{ 112 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Phililp July 16, 2009 at 3:57 pm

While I agree that playing Halo all day and hitting the bar every night isn’t “finding yourself” , getting a 9-5 job a house un the burbs and wife and 3 kids won’t make you find yourself either. It can make you a better man, but it’s not a given. I know weak pathetic men who have dead end jobs in a cubicle they hate, and barely know their kids. I know great men who have never had a normal 9-5 job and aren’t married, or are and don’t have kids. Does the man who travels the world doing aide work or as traveling doctor or nurse not have a claim to being a real man, becuase he opted out for the standard “american dream”? Our society has an odd duality, we admire characters like Indiana Jones, yet we also claim that a life like his, no marriage, no kids, a risky globe trotting job based primarily on treasure seeking, is a “non manly” life. I think being a real Man is about finding your true calling in life, be it in corporate america, the military, or traveling the world

102 Phililp July 16, 2009 at 4:01 pm

GBurger,

Actually he literally is saying get married and have kids, to have a fulfilling life and be a real man

103 Phillip July 16, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Matt B,

For you marriage and kids are the only way to real growth, not everyone. Every guy who isn’t interested in a 9-5 desk job and a wife and 3 kids in the burbs isn’t Peter Pan.

104 Phillip July 16, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Jonothan,

What if that “one” girl, who’m you can have that kind of life with never comes a long? Should you wait until she does to have the adventures and experiences that go into being a man wait until or if “she” comes a long. I’m 31 and still waiting for her, but until then I’m living my life.

105 Phillip July 16, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Brett,

So joining the peace corps or going to grad school or medical school are “excuses” for not getting married in your early to mid 20′s? What if the right girl for you hasn’t come along yet, or if she never does? Are men who become priests not manly and self centered becuase they didn’t marry and have kids?

106 Brett July 16, 2009 at 5:13 pm

@Phillip-

1) I did not write this article. Cameron Ming did.

2) I think you have misread this article and taken a very narrow view of the point of it. But there’s nothing that I can say that hasn’t already been explained in the above comments, so I’ll simply leave it at that.

3) This post is more than a year old, so just as a bit of advice, I wouldn’t bother responding to people’s comments. It is very unlikely that they’re checking in here.

107 Jason Sneed August 13, 2010 at 5:22 pm

This is a good article about commitment

108 Nicky Lip August 19, 2010 at 8:51 pm

So then “getting married” and “having kids” is the only way to happiness, huh? Sounds like you depend pretty strongly on external forces to determine your internal happiness level… what if, and God forbid, but what if a plane crash or something took all of that away from you? Then what are you left with?

The key to happiness IS to find yourself, no matter how long it takes. Deep, honest thinking is the only way. It sounds like you subscribe to whatever kind of thinking society has told you to think up until now… if marriage and family hadn’t become a “normal” thing, how would you find yourself? How would you DEFINE yourself?

To be completely frank, it sounds like you are a bit envious of someone in your life who is able to “find himself” and not work or take on responsibility… don’t be mad, just find YOURself and you too will be happy.

Peace and love.

109 mke October 16, 2012 at 10:34 am

the article’s saying you have to go through commitment and action to really find yourself , but that sitting at home and think about being a man won’t make you a man

110 Jill December 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm

>>The key to happiness IS to find yourself, no matter how long it takes

This is crock. If you haven’t found yourself ( like wtf does that even mean?) by the age of 25 then you need counseling or you you’ve so unrooted that you’re a nomad. Grow up.

111 Curtis October 24, 2013 at 9:20 am

I appreciate that I’m really late to this post, but I wonder what the author would make of my predicament.

I’m 23, and thanks to AoM, I have identified the virtues and qualities I need to possess to become the man I want to be. The problem is, because I haven’t “lived,” as my elders are quick to remind me, I am not yet mature enough to understand what needs to be done to arrive there…

I work full-time in insurance; a job I fell into and am not really content in. I’m attending evening classes for what I really want to do, but again, this is a slow process. Would any sound mind prescribe marriage and kids to someone in my predicament?

112 Bastiaan November 20, 2013 at 6:41 pm

@ Curtis

Just stumbled across this post, and I was quite surprised at the message and the tone. I’ve been reading through a lot of AoM lately and it doesn’t seem to fit into the style of the rest of the articles, which are much more balanced in terms of combining contemplation and action. Keeping in mind series such as “Find Your Calling”, “Craft the Life You Want” and “Are You a Sheep or Sheepdog”, it appears to me that the overall message AoM conveys is that we should use our powers of reflection to develop our self-knowledge and use this insight to guide us from who we are to who we want to become.

It seems ill-advised to me to embark on something as serious as marriage and children without having your internal compass figured out, especially if you’re working a job and studying at the same time. Also, seeing as you’ve gone through the effort of finding out what direction you want to go in as a man, I would stick to that vision since it aligns with your personal priorities and circumstances. Society will gain much more from you working on your passion.

Sure, sitting around playing video games isn’t a great way to spend your time, but especially actions 4 and 5 Mr. Ming has suggested above seem radical and misguided at best if undertaken rashly and without due consideration. If you’re looking for something more supportive and informative, I suggest picking up “The Defining Decade” by Meg Jay, Brett did a podcast on it not so long ago I think and she did a TED talk as well. The book presents a similar argument to what Mr. Ming may be trying to convey here: your twenties are a time to get out there and do stuff, learn new skills and build up what she calls “identity capital”, and not to chill out and wait for something to fall in your lap. From what you say, it looks to me like that’s what you’re doing: developing work experience, figuring out what works for you, and working towards a goal that you value.

Frankly, I plan on ignoring this post altogether. It lacks the nuance and mature vision of what it means to be a man that I’ve come to love here at AoM. “If you’re over 22 and daddy is still paying your rent and bills, something is wrong.” I turn 23 in two months, and am currently enrolled in a fulltime Master’s program and will graduate when I’m 24. I’ve been studying my heart out since I was 12 and am frankly rather offended by the fact that Mr. Ming seems to be unaware that it’s possible to embark on a fulltime tertiary education that’s longer than 4 years.

I haven’t figured out what kind of man I want to be and what goals I want to work towards (my goal right now is to have a goal, if that makes sense), but having gone through a lot of the posts on this topic it looks to me like you’re on the right path.

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