In a society where honesty is often interchangeable with naivety, secrecy has become the new norm. Our personalities have become layered constructs: multi-faceted psyches reflecting artificial traits. To integrate into society, we create, remove, and switch these personalities as easily as CDs. With this shroud of fakeness that surrounds us, distinguishing the true character of others has become extremely difficult.
However, understanding ourselves can be even tougher. With the daily jumble of conflicting beliefs, self-doubt and uncertainty can thrive. “Who really am I?” and “Why am I doing this?” Such questions can be mental roadblocks, and it is easy to end up stuck in the wrong figurative alley, unable to arrive at our true selves.
Yet there is a remedy to inauthenticity: reflection. Self-reflection is like a deep-tissue massage: it undos mental knots at the cost of discomfort. It drives us to question our genuineness as we examine our flaws. Untangling personal doubts and indiscretions can be messy, time-consuming, and initially useless—this is why I initially opted out of doing it.
This year, I was a speaker for ASIJ’s 2021 TEDx event: Reflections. Three months into creating my talk, I realized that my speech was horrible. None of it was original—
everything was a consolidation of other TED Talks, rather than my own ideas. The extreme discomfort of self-examination had subconsciously driven me away from my own interests and issues. It led me to pursue the ideas of past speakers, rather than my own.
As I learned through this experience, selfishness is both humanity’s saving grace and fatal flaw. As humans, we instinctively want the best for ourselves: maximum pleasure with minimum fuss. But while this pursuit for personal comfort has spurred human civilization for millennia, it can lead to an avoidance of suffering. By refusing to explore my many biases and flaws, I was doomed to remain wallowing in self-doubt. I was being selfish to myself, blocking the way to maturity and growth.
With this uncomfortable realization, I reluctantly pushed myself towards self-examination. As my focus slowly shifted towards exploring my own ideals, satisfaction and fulfilment creeped into life. Personal faults slowly transformed into potential ideas as I gained the motivation to trust in my own thinking. I finally felt free: there was finally room to explore and challenge my interests at a steady pace, rather than pure personal or outer judgement. Although realizing and resolving this issue took time, trial, and error, my mind finally felt clear and confident.
For some, self-reflection may be the most difficult task they ever have to embark upon. It can take weeks, months, or even years to fully unravel one’s inner demons. However, this is the only path towards personal authenticity: a personality unimpeded by self-doubt, outside biases, and selfishness. Academic coach Erika Oppenheimer once said, “A clear mind allows you to think and act with purpose.” So be more selfish. Ask more of yourself, in order to gain more from yourself.