Building your true self

When I was little, I learned how to write my lower-case “n” the same way that everyone else does. I drew it the way that (in all likelihood) it appears on the screen to you now: a vertical line on the left side with a kind of hump on the right side.

lower-case "n"Later on, I had a friend who wrote his lower-case “n” differently: he drew what looked like an upper-case “N” but at half the height, so that it was the same size as the other lower-case letters. I thought this looked really cool, and I decided that I wanted to write that way. So I practiced it. At first, it took a conscious effort. It was something that I worked at. After a while, it became more automatic, until at some point it was just the way I wrote my lower-case “n”. Now, it would actually take an effort for me to do anything else.

At first, you could say I was being “fake”, or “not myself” and putting on some kind of pretense or act. But eventually, over time, it became me. Now, it is part of who I really am, and how I naturally write. To do anything different would be “fake”.

Thinking about this, I suggested to a friend of mine that maybe all of our traits and preferences are like this. Maybe not in such a deliberate and conscious way, but on some level: perhaps we select things that we see in the environment and other people and incorporate them into ourselves, until they are ourselves. We copy it until we become it.

This idea upset my friend a great deal. “If all that I am is pieces from other people, then there is nothing that is really me! There is nothing that makes me special or original or unique!”

I tried to answer by saying that it’s not the individual traits, but the pattern that makes you unique. It’s the things that you happen to select and weave together. It’s like how language works: you don’t have to make up a new word to express a new idea. You express a new and unique thought by combining words in a pattern that nobody else has used before.

But people are obsessed with the idea of their “true self”, aren’t they? They want to find out what it is, and be true to it, and it somehow matters to people that it come from them, rather than being a collage or aggregation of things they found in the world.

But I’ll tell you a secret: you are a collage of the things around you, the things you live with, and the things you expose yourself to day by day. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with people whom you admire, who are quality people, and who do great things.  Because whether you admire them or not, you will end up being a collage of whatever people you allow into your life.


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  1. Bobby says:

    This is so true! It reminds me of how I came to have the signature I have now. I practiced it over and over and over way back in high school and just like your N, I can’t imagine signing any other way. Now people tell me it’s the fanciest signature they’ve ever seen…

  2. Neal Miller says:

    After reading this article, I’ve decided to raise my next child in a featureless room, devoid of all human contact, in the interest of seeing how the child’s “true self” turns out, devoid of all interaction and experience.

    I just need to determine whether my wife is on board, or if she simply hates science.