Carl Jung said that “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are” and yet this notion of a true, authentic ‘self’ is being called into question by modern neuroscience. What we think of as ‘me’ is actually just a network of behaviours, memories, sensations that give the sense of wholeness and of permanence but which are constantly in flux. There is no single part of the brain that is associated with an enduring identity – a self that’s in charge.
Why then in our culture are we so obsessed with finding ‘the real me’? Buzzfeed quizzes and horoscopes fly around on social media enticing us with the possibility of greater self-awareness and a stamp of identity that we can share with friends: Oh I’m SUCH a Monica / typical Sagittarian / peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We love to define ourselves, to tell our story, even if it’s pure illusion.
I run a regular event at Impact Hub Islington called the Brainy Brunch in which we spark discussions on a different topic each month through videos, mostly TED Talks, as we tuck into smoked salmon bagels and coffee. The latest event was curated by Mark Spokes and Greta Rossi, founders of social enterprise Ākāśa Innovation, as part of their crowdfunding campaign 50 Days of Summer, and asked the question: “What’s your authentic story?”
We watched two TED talks. The first, by Julian Baggini, entitled ‘Is there a real you?’ provoked a sense of liberation in the lack of an enduring self, suggesting instead that we should see ourselves as a process instead of a fixed thing. This allows then for the possibility of constant reinvention. As the Buddha said, “Wise people fashion themselves”.
The second talk was by the wonderful Brene Brown on ‘Listening to shame’. Leading on from her famous TED on vulnerability, Brown talks about shame as “the gremlin that says you’re never good enough”, which prevents us from showing our vulnerability. Brown says that her research has revealed a shame epidemic in our culture, where men are afraid to be perceived as weak and women of not being able to cope with all of our competing and conflicting expectations. As a result we put up a front to the real us, and this stops us from truly connecting with ourselves and with each other. Modern technology makes this easier than ever before as we photoshop and edit our lives on social media.
We discussed the following questions, which you may want to consider yourself:
What are some key words that summarise what your life journey means to you?
What deep dreams, passions and connections have you neglected to follow or have yet been unable to fulfill? What’s stopped you?
What could be a working title that could be used for the biography of your authentic self?