Despite assorted life-coach advisories and dictums, I have never actually found the search for and contemplation of my own self particularly interesting.  When you’re adept at making (and living) in stories and poems, searching for your one “true” self seems like a waste of time.

Delphic pronouncements about the importance of “knowing thyself” are fine, but then there’s that New Age-y corollary that says you have to also embrace and love that self unconditionally or something.  This last bit is likely to set off agonized moans from me.

“Self?  Self?  Umm…what Self do you want me to hug or whatever?  Some of those selves of mine, I just want to whack!”

image of collection of baseball bats
“Baseball bats” by Peter Miller via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I don’t know about you, but, I have a LOT of different selves.  I make them up all the time.   I’ve got an Inner Child, an Inner Sergeant Major, an Inner Dingbat, an Inner Ninja, an Inner Dummy, an Inner Control Freak, an Inner Nanny, an Inner Femme Fatale, an Inner Really Bad Girl…well, you get the idea.

The fact is, the me I show the world is likely to shift around some from day to day, but the selves I deploy in the world are all me.  I am not wildly different from one day to the next.  (My life is probably just not chaotic enough for that.)

However, the moves I make and the personae that are out there on the playing field are shaped by the skills and propensities of mine that I need to call up in order to respond to whatever is happening in the world around me.  All of my skills and talents have-–errr—various “personality traits” attached.

masks as metaphors for selves
“Masked” by Robyn Jay via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Some days the self (or the mash-up of a random assortment of Inner Selves) that I call up sucks at dealing with the situations I happen to be facing.  Other days I can actually soar, and the jazzin’ around and jammin’ with other people comes easy.

None of the bennies I get from trying to deal with Life-Its-Own-Self comes from a consciously directed search for my one special shinier-than-shiny self.  I’m usually too busy looking for answers that help to unkink yet another conundrum or dilemma or problem I’ve come up against.

metaphor for searching for answers
“Eye See You Two” by Christine Schmidt via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
For a good long while I thought that maybe I was doing this self-improvement stuff all wrong.  After all was said and done, I was basically flunking that all-important prerequisite, “Self-Quest 101.”  Oops!


However, I’ve just run across a little YouTube video, “Truly Terrible Advice: Find Your ‘True Self’ and Be Authentic” that was uploaded in 2016 by Big Think.

The video features Michael Puett, a professor of Chinese History at Harvard University.  With his co-author, journalist Christine Gross-Loh, Puett wrote THE PATH:  What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life.

That book grew out of Puett’s very popular general education course, “Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory,” which has consistently been the third most-enrolled undergraduate course at the school since 2012.

(The other two classes with higher enrollment, year after year, are the introductory courses to Economics and to Computer Science.)

Gross-Loh tells the story of how, in 2007, the second year in which the course was offered, so many students signed up for it that the pupils were sitting on the stairs and the stage and the crowd was spilling out into the hallway.

The class had to be moved to Sanders Theater, the biggest venue at the school.

shows size of venue
“Memorial Hall,” Sanders Theater, Harvard” by Peter Morgan via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
In the video Puett suggests that diving “within” to unearth our one “true and authentic self” may not be an effective strategy that is worth pursuing.

Puett explains that all of us humans tend to notice and to respond to the emotional patterns we see shaping up around us.  It’s a major way we humans learn how to move through the world safely and efficiently (or not).

The mess of emotional patterns and ruts that we take on as we interact with all of the other people around us is the result of all kinds of unthinking or unconscious reactions, strategic blunders, and bad moves that we and the people around us seem to encounter or maybe even start are the kinds of things the old Chinese sages faced head-on.

Puett’s take on it all is this:  Everybody’s got baggage.  Our luggage interacts with other people’s burdens all the time.  If we don’t look at how we and those around us tend to see and react to the consensus-world we are making together, our lives can get downright hairy.

metaphor for mental baggage
“Big Suitcase” by mtan14 via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
The fruitless quest of “finding our One True Self” doesn’t really address the problems we face, and, of course, this other way of seeing that Puett points out does take time and effort.  Maybe it’ll take a whole lifetime’s worth.


There is one thing on which many of the Smarty Pants in the white lab coats agree that we modern folks don’t actually find to be such a mind-boggle.  Those guys tell us that story-making is how we humans make sense of the world and of Life-Its-Own-Self.

At any given moment, they say, all of us humans are likely to try to either

  1. fit our life into some story or other we’ve already made, or
  2. make up a story to fit how our lives happen to be trending.

This is a given, it seems.  The sense of continuity, of time flowing on through our lives, and the feeling that it is likely that the same kinds of familiar things will continue to happen over and over again can either be comforting to us or they can engender our discontent.

This naturally give us an incentive to either wrap all that comfort even more warmly around us or chuck the unsatisfactory bits out of there.

illustrates concept of continuity
“Hawkeye Measured Time clock|kitchen timer” by anefixus21 via Flickr. [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
It could be that it is this sense of continuity that allows us to dare to dream that we can live a life that is better than the one in which we are living now.  The continuity flowing through the lives we’ve already lived, the Smarty Pants say, assures us that we are probably going to exist for some time yet and might actually become that “better future self” we would like to be.

It is also this sense of continuity that can help us start and stay motivated enough to work through building the dream we would prefer to live.

We might even feel moved by that sense of continuity (which is quite elastic and can stretch to include our ancestors and our descendants) to start working on doing legacy goals that use up our whole lives.

illustrates legacy goals
“Legacy” by Aftab Uzzaman via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
One interesting series of YouTube videos is the “Making Hope Happen 100-Day Challenge” uploaded by self-confessed “personal development junkie” Lori Mage who is also a Certified Professional OPTIMIZE Coach.

As a work in progress, the series is an illustration of how you, too, can use continuity to build the future life you want.  All you need to do is commit yourself to putting together something every day that takes you toward the goal you are trying to reach.

On Day 85, Mage presents an idea she got from Dr. Dan Siegel called “Name It to Tame It” – a practical way to deal with intense emotions that can hijack your ability to think clearly and act graciously.

Here’s the video:

(Siegel is a clinical professor of the UCLA School of Medicine as well as the executive director of the Mindsight Institute and an author of several useful, best-selling books.)

You might want to dip into more of Mage’s Challenge YouTube video series which presents her curated collection of ideas for “navigating change, mastering transitions and making dreams come true.”  Mage says she put the thing together to fulfill her coaching year two certification.

About the challenge, she says, her mentor told her, “You have to be willing to suck before you can unsuck.  And, that(!) requires practice.”  By number 85, she has gotten pretty good at putting together videos.

And that’s the point of the whole thing, isn’t it?  If you commit to doing something that furthers your project onward, then eventually you’ll get to the end of that bit of walking and can see where you need to go next.


The biggest problem about walking towards your own dream in your unique way is this:  You cannot be a spectator to your own life.  It is, after all, your own story.  Somebody’s gotta do it.

In order to test your premises and your theories you have to have skin in your game.  It will be hard.  You will get beat up.  You have to decide whether you want to keep getting up every time you get beat down.

The following 2022 YouTube video by Green Renaissance, my favorite makers of beautiful short films about people finding meaningful lives for themselves, is this one, “Living With Intention.

The video features Sarah Beckett, an artisanal baker who went looking for and found a life that feels like a better fit for her than the ones many of her friends and acquaintances would choose.

I think this video illustrates a way of walking that, should you choose to pursue it, can put genuine soul into your game.


If you, too, find the Quest for Your Own True Self a yawn-inducing chore, I hope you got some good takeaway ideas from this post.

Now, go play….

Here’s a poem:


It occurred to me that all of us are promises

Made by some long-dead ancestor to the world,

To generations past, for generations coming,

A promise that continues in full force.


And I think about how my own life has run on promises —

Promises made and promises kept (or not) —

And the stories that pile up as time moves on,

An inexorable river that never pauses…no, not for a second.


I wonder sometimes whether I have been a promise kept

Or one that my distant progenitor only flung out defiantly

As a hope or a wish and a quiet vote in favor of

The continuation of Life-Its-Own-Self.


For some reason, that last one always makes me smile.

by Netta Kanoho

HEADER PHOTO CREDIT:  “Into the Abyss” by Mark Seton via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.


  1. LineCowley says:

    Your post on cancel the search for the one true self really resonated with me. At the age of 63, I sometimes listen to the “younger” generation telling me that I need to find my own true self. While I’m thinking, I know exactly what I like and don’t like, what tickles me and what doesn’t, as 63 years of living has given me many experiences. 

    I’ve read the self-help books and listened to self-motivational podcasts, and although there is still a huge amount I would like to do and achieve in life, I do not need to go on a journey to find my inner self. I am always open to ways to improve myself and indeed try to live my life with intention. 

    1. Hee!  I do so agree with you, LineCowley.  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your story.

      Please do come again.

  2. Your poem kept me stuck for a while. It quickly made me think, “Am I doing Okay, well enough and doing justice to my life and the world I am living in now in the time frame of eternity?”

    If I sleep well every night, and could mindfully dedicate myself to God, I feel I am good to go. 

    But indeed I do want to improve myself more because I feel I have more capability.

    You have great pictures and videos to merge me or anyone more to have the anatomy of life. Not sure if anatomy here is the right word to use.

    1. Anusuya, that question you are asking yourself is a very good one, I think.  It gives you room to step outside the shape of your life now and consider how it relates to a much wider playing field. 

      And maybe having that awareness of the playing field that’s available to you will help you explore more deeply what your capabilities are and how much farther you can go. 

      Wo!  Good on ya!

      I’m glad the post works for you.  Please do come again.

  3. Hello Netta,

    Self-knowledge – is a difficult subject.  Spiritual balance is difficult to achieve, people are attracted to the material side of their existence.

    Sooner or later, more or less, each of us reaches these existential topics. Especially when we move into the second part of life, or when we go through big trouble.

    Life as a poem – sounds beautiful. In reality, it is not that simple to write the lyrics and find the rhyme.

    I like your pages. You have the necessary talent. It is beautiful what you have achieved.  Much success in the future.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Daniel.  I do appreciate them. 

      You are right, of course.  Even though most of this stuff is simple, none of it is ever easy.  Making the space for it in your life, developing systems and routines and turning it into a practice that helps facilitate the moves you choose to use does help you get better at navigating through Life-Its-Own Self, however.

      Please do come again.

  4. Cody Walker says:

    Thank you for this post! There is just so much to consider when you are “searching for your inner self”. There are many things in here that I will reflect on.

    I really like your usage of videos to further provide information about this topic. This is a topic that has been in question for many generations so it is very intriguing and something that I think should continue to be explored and talked about!

    1. Cody, thank you for your visit.  I’m glad you found the post interesting.

      Please do come again.

  5. Anastazja says:

    One thing that I have learned is what you expressed so well at the beginning of this article. 

    However, as I got older, I began to realize that all those facets of me are because of all the facets of my parents, siblings, influential teachers, car salesmen, etc. etc.  I do not have a self that is separate from all of the many influences of people, environments and circumstances from which I have learned and experienced. 

    It is wise to understand where a given facet might come from to help alter it if necessary.


    1. Jim, thanks for the visit and for sharing your own experience.

      I do like your idea of trying to track down the various influences that might have helped you form your various selves.  As you say, it might actually help you when you try to counter or change the actions that arise out of some self you would like to retire.

      Please do come again.

  6. I love this website, because each time I visit it, I come away with some wonderful new nuggets of wisdom.

    Finding your true self is a complex subject and one that I highly doubt many are successful in resolving.

    However, I love that you have put this subject into more perspective, as we all have multiple sides to us and nobody can be expected to conform to one type of person.

    I think we can like many different things, and the best hope we have in the end is to try and do the things that make us feel happy and content.

    1. Welcome back, Michel.  I do appreciate your visits and the way you share your own thoughts about the posts I put up.  Thank you!

      Please do come again.

  7. Chris Towers says:

    Hi there, I am really enjoying your site and this time I just read your post about having different sides to ourselves, and it’s pretty interesting.

    I have felt the same way sometimes, like I am a different person depending on where I am or who I am with. This could just be a social issue I have maybe?

    What do you think, are these sides something we are born with, or do they come from our experiences?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Welcome back, Chris.  A good question, I think.  It may just be a matter of perception.

      It seems to me that this fascination with being just ONE self might be an expectation placed on us by people who want us to just be like them.  Since I come from a long line of women who are forces of nature and men who are impersonating immovable objects, this has never set well with me.

      I spent years trying on all kinds of masks and taking note of the reactions from the people around me.  Some of those masks worked well; some not so much.  Some mimicked my own selfness well and others were just too alien for me to sustain for even a little while.

      This helped me develop empathy for other people’s stances, I think.  Even when I do not agree with a person, most of the time (if their stances bring no harm to themselves or to the people around them) I can at least respect and honor their way of being.

      (I may not want to hang around with them, but that’s another story.)

      It also helps me see whether how these others are standing brings the outcomes to them that they say they want. If I had been wedded to just one idea (somebody else’s, probably) about the WHO standing in my shoes, I would not have been able to think deeply about my own stance, I suppose.

      OOH!  I like that question!  Thanks for asking.

      Please do come again.

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