Why Trying to Find Yourself Sets You Up for Failure

by Darcie

I hate when someone says, “I’m trying to find myself.”

My disdain for this statement does not originate in a lack of support for the underlying implication that this individual is searching for clarify on identity or direction in life, but rather because of the implied passivity in those words. In essence, if you just give it enough time, something will happen, randomly, miraculously, and you will suddenly be able to succinctly define your next step or, even more boldly, your purpose in life.

That’s bullshit. Sure, there is a certain amount of luck and the timing involved various pursuits, but developing an authentic sense of identity often involves trial and error over the course of a long period of time. And that involves intentional thought and action.

Many entrepreneurs and authors will tell you that they have many failed ideas or professional missteps sitting in a metaphorical box of broken dreams.

In 2015, I lived  in Bali for three months. I had the time of my life, and this Indonesian island is one of my favorite places in the world. To an outside observer, I was there to “find myself.” I had just ended a relationship with a long-term boyfriend. We broke up on the brink of getting engaged which wasn’t as hard for me to let go of as the fact that we had created intertwined dreams for our life together. When we broke up, those dreams completely shattered. In separating from this man, I felt like I lost who I was. (To clarify, I do not mean to imply that we were co-dependent or that I didn’t have any of my own dreams. Rather, we had joined our dreams and co-constructed ones as is common in long-term relationships where decisions affect both individuals.)

The day after we broke up, I booked a one-way ticket to Bali. This lush, verdant island had long been on my list of places to visit, not because of Eat, Pray, Love (though I do love that story), but because of a person whom I’d met traveling years before who spoke so highly of the small island in the middle of a massive archipelago.

I didn’t envision that Bali would be the place that I would “find myself.” I viewed it as an opportunity to hit the reset button on my life; I would thaw so that I could create my new life.

Life is like a blank canvas. You are the artist. Pick up your paintbrush and create the life you desire.

Many of you might be thinking, “Okay, I’m holding the paintbrush in my hand, but I have no idea what to draw.”

I get that. I’ve been there. I have a law degree that didn’t lead to a fulfilling career. So I went back to school for an additional master’s degree with the hope that this would lead to a fulfilling career.

But there were no guarantees when I committed $80,000 to another degree when I had finally paid off my law school loans. I risked a lot. I jumped and I wasn’t sure if my parachute would open.

We never know how something will work out unless we try. Now, I am not advocating for blindly investing thousands of dollars into a degree that you have not seriously considered its value. But what I am proposing is that you try. You explore careers that you find even remotely interesting.

Prior to going back to school, I applied to somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in various fields, attempting to use my law degree in a way other than being an attorney. I didn’t get one follow-up call. This is not a joke. I didn’t get one interview, which frankly befuddled my dad since he insisted that I “could do anything with a law degree.”

“Sorry, Dad, but that’s not true.”

Here’s where the element of luck came in. One of my friends suggested that I look into the field of marriage and family therapy. My undergraduate degree is in psychology, and my friend pointed out how much I enjoyed learning about self-development as well as my strong belief in connection with others. I semi-blew her off, though I did look up what it would take to apply.

In short, I wasn’t sold.

Another degree? More school? Two more years of not only not earning any money and investing about $80k in more education?

Absolutely not. I couldn’t do it. I have a visceral aversion to debt, a product of my financial adviser father. I also knew that it would be difficult to get my dad on board with this shaky plan, a must for me who is undoubtedly an approval-seeker from my parents.

But I also value being happy. I know, and can admit, that I was not the best employee as an attorney.

I had no skin in the game and, putting it bluntly, hated every minute of it.

So I painstakingly deliberated the benefits and drawbacks of going back to school. I did my best to imagine how I would feel in 30 years about getting this degree. I imagined how a career as as a therapist would intersect with other things I want in my life, like marriage and motherhood.

There was nothing certain about my decision to apply. There was nothing set in stone about accepting the offer to interview. There was nothing set in stone about putting down the deposit once I was accepted to the sole school to which I applied.

Then the day came I had to pay my tuition. I called my mom in a panic, telling her that I couldn’t pull the trigger and transfer an exorbitant amount of money from my bank account to the university.

“I hear you,” she said. “So, if not school, what are you going to do? What other options do you have?”

I didn’t have a good answer. I felt out of options.

“Think about it this way,” my mom said. “You put a lot of things out  into the world and many doors closed, but this one opened. What do you make of that?”

This resonated with me. Big time. I completed the tuition payment after this conversation.

Was I sure of that decision? No, because I didn’t, and still don’t, have a working magic 8 ball.

Life is an amalgam of choice and chance.

I thoughtfully made the choice to take a chance.

This is how I created myself. I brainstormed. I talked with others. I applied for jobs. There was nothing passive about any of these things. Nothing “just happened.”

I didn’t find myself. Rather, I created myself. It was not a life I envisioned from the outset. My path has not been linear, and I don’t expect it to be, despite sometimes hoping it were.

I imagine that my journey will continue to be punctuated with ups and downs, highs and lows, falls and skinned knees.

Every move I make is creating myself. Every step and misstep. Every turn and roadblock.

It’s all me.

How have you created yourself? What do you do to develop your sense of self? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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