“Your life is just a story you tell other people.”
I’ve been busy the past couple of weeks getting ready to leave. I’ve ended my lease, sold most of the possessions I don’t need anymore and put the rest into storage. The number of belongings I need—not merely own, but need to survive—now fit neatly into a carry-on bag. Only thing I have left to do now is step on the plane.
While going through my belongings, I came across some pictures of myself from when I was in high school. Fat, disheveled-looking, no fashion sense, deaf to social cues. Aside from being in the band and jazz ensemble, I had almost no involvement in school activities. I didn’t attend either the prom or the senior ball because I couldn’t get a single girl willing to put up with me. I graduated high school a virgin. I tried to remember what it was I wanted back then, what I saw myself doing in ten years.
I can’t even remember, other then the fact that it definitely wasn’t this.
“I want people to accept me for me!” is the eternal cry of the loser. The nerd. The fat chick. The person with serious issues that they can’t be bothered to solve. Instead of trying to better themselves, they selfishly expect everyone else to put up with their flaws.
Fuck that noise.
The core belief of these people is that human beings have an inviolable identity that never changes, and that any deviation from this identity is somehow not being “true” to yourself. This forms one of the core objections writers like me face from men and women: that we’re teaching men to be “fake” and to be something that they’re not.
“You can’t build a relationship on pickup lines!”
“You can only front for so long before the real you comes out.”
“If you want a girlfriend, you should just be yourself.”
But what exactly does “being yourself” even mean?
The Matt Forney of ten years ago—the slovenly, dorky, overweight loser—wouldn’t recognize the Matt Forney of today. I became a more sociable person in college. I got laid. I blew up my career to go hitchhiking across the country, a six-month trip that nearly got me killed multiple times. I started a small business. I published a few books. I climbed Angels Landing in Utah, a trail that is one step below actual rock climbing, with treacherous switchbacks and a portion that requires you to hold on with chains lest you slip and fall thousands of feet to your death. I have groupies.
And now I’m leaving for a country where the average moron assumes I’ll get killed just walking down the street.
Am I not being “true” to myself by living the way I am now? Is there a statute of limitations on identity formation? If I was a pimply, fat failure ten years ago, does not being a pimply, fat failure today make me a phony? Or has enough time passed that I can safely claim my current identity as my “true” one?
Here’s a harsh fact: there is no “real” you, because there is no “you.” There is only “me,” whatever identity you happen to possess at this moment in time. Your identity is not some unchanging construct, but is constantly in flux and is altered by actions you take and things you experience. A serious injury, the death of a loved one, learning a new skill, getting into a relationship with a crazy chick: all these and more leave their marks on your soul, change you in ways subtle and gross. Even if you don’t experience any major life events, the mere march of time will slowly alter who you are until one day, you look in the mirror and barely recognize who’s looking back at you.
I’m not the same man I was ten years ago, and I won’t be the same man ten years from now. I won’t even be the same man six months from now. Yet according to the Cult of the True Self, I’m not being “authentic” because I’m choosing to control my own development rather than just accept whatever lumps life gives me. I’m taking control of my own destiny instead of leaving it in the hands of everyone around me, none of whom have my best interests at heart.
It doesn’t matter that I’m happier, healthier or a better man now: in their eyes, I’m a fake.
The only people who cling tenaciously to the Cult of the True Self are themselves failures. They can’t get laid. They’re fat. They’re stuck in dead-end jobs, dead-end existences, never once reaching for the gold. They believe their identities are fixed and unchanging because they lack the willpower to direct their own lives. Their belief in being “authentic” is a pretty lie they use to avoid the truth: that they can change their lives, that they aren’t condemned to their miserable existences, and that every minute they suffer is completely avoidable.
You are not who you were in high school.
Your identity is what you make it to be. If you’re a fat loser, it’s because you have chosen to be a fat loser. It’s because you lack the drive and focus to climb out of your self-imposed isolation. There is no “authentic” you that is completely independent of your current life. The only thing that matters is “me”: how do you define yourself? What do you want to do with your life? What kind of person do you want to be? Who you were in the past is irrelevant. Who you are now is irrelevant.
All that matters is who you want to become and what you’re doing to get there.
It’s time to forget your past, forget your mistakes, forget your failures. They don’t matter. The past is a foreign country, as real as a dream. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sabotage you, bring you down to their level. Let them stew in their misery as you move on to bigger and better things.