What does it mean to "be yourself?"
July 17, 2006 12:19 AM   Subscribe

How do you "be yourself?"

It seems intuitively people know how to "be yourself." However, I have a few problems:

- It seems paradoxical. How can you NOT be anything but yourself? It's like the oxymoron "act naturally."

- One of my inner desires involves the supression of my flaws and self-improvement. If I were to "be myself," would that involve surpressing that desire? If so, then is "being yourself" contradictory to change?

- Where does learning fit in? You may hear the aphorism "be yourself" when your friend notices you acting uptight at a club. However, a few minutes later, he may offer some criticism of your social behavior, such as, "stop acting the fool."

In my limited literature review, I found a two locii: identity crisis and self-actualization.

Identity crisis involves situations where people are committing to a false identity. But what makes one identity false and other's not?

Self-actualization is one of Maslow's terms, which involves cultivating your true potential. Again, what is your true potential? Here is some criticism from Heylighen [pdf]:

Though the need hierarchy seems relatively simple and consistent, the concept of self-actualization is not clearly defined. There is a difficulty with the concept of "actualization" itself, because it presupposes that there is somehow a well-defined set of potential talents an individual is capable of developing, but a human system is much too complex to allow the discrimination between "potential" developments and "impossible" ones.

The Greeks inscribed the maxim "Know Thyself" on the Sun god Apollo's Oracle of Delphi temple. However, I've studied myself, written countless journal entries, and seem to know every little thing about myself. And yet, I don't really think I'm being myself.

However, this may have something more to do with "self-acceptance." But then again, where do you draw the line between self-acceptance and challenging your limits?

What strategies do you employ to "be yourself?"
posted by philosophistry to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The situation you mention above (being in a club, other prompting you to be yourself) isn't about being yourself - it's about being relaxed. Is it a possibility that being yourself doesn't include going to nightclubs? If so, "being yourself" isn't the outcome your friend is looking for.

Self-acceptance doesn't have to be about being stagnant. When faced with Situation Z, one that I haven't experienced before, I compare its possible outcomes and basis, and fold it into my evolving idea of who I am (a component being whether I do it or not!).

People aren't isolated or static. We change. How I know myself to be is different than how people perceive me and even how I am. It's the same with you.

A strategy I try is to turn my internal dialog truly inward for at least 15 minutes a day (more of it comes naturally). I avoid post-analysis of events (it leads to trouble for future interactions) unless I'm given really solid reason to.

Also, don't worry about learning who you are too much - you're going to be different tomorrow anyway.
posted by Vantech at 12:33 AM on July 17, 2006

I think a conscious effort on one's part to become something is when they start to "not be themselves" - but, paradoxically - I think this is exactly what makes us human.

As Sartre would say, we "are in a constant state of becoming." If he's right, then as Vantech says - we can never really know ourselves. Just by reading this response "who you are" as a person has already changed. David Hume argued that a lot of what we call "the self" is really just a sham, a trick of language.

He's a quick quote that might be of use to you (From wikipedia):

We tend to think that we are the same person we were five years ago. Though we've changed in many respects, the same person appears present as was present then. We might start thinking about which features can be changed without changing the underlying self. Hume, however, denies that there is a distinction between the various features of a person and the mysterious self that supposedly bears those features. After all, Hume pointed out, when you start introspecting, you notice a bunch of thoughts and feelings and perceptions and such, but you never perceive any substance you could call "the self". So as far as we can tell, Hume concludes, there is nothing to the self over and above a big, fleeting bundle of perceptions.

I agree with Hume in the sense that authors often throw around the word "self" as if everyone already knows what he/she is talking about. The entire concept of the "self" is a subject few writers really go. I think denying the absence of the ego is too painful for most people. They need something to call, "I". Hume would probably argue otherwise.

Going to your "club example" - I want to say that your friend, when he says "act natural, man" is really offering you a compliment... he's trying to that is. He's saying: "The philosophistry I know isn't like that... he's acting in a way other than what I know him as." In other words, your actions are unnatural to HIM. Except in reality, you have no "nature" and you decide for yourself how you can act - every day, every moment. The club example, therefore, is more a question about perspective than about reality.

Not only do I think none of us know our "true" selves, I really don't think "true selves" exist. If you accept Sartre's proposition that man has no nature and makes himself as he sees himself - then living up to an existing standard is impossible, because no such standard exists. In other words, the "true self" is doomed from the start.

Hope I managed to stay (somewhat) on topic. Definitely check out David Hume's Bundle Theory of the Self.
posted by ifranzen at 1:20 AM on July 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

To be yourself is to act in a way so that your actions are a balance between what you deem comfortable, with what those around you feel comfortable with.
posted by bamassippi at 1:25 AM on July 17, 2006

To be yourself is to act in a way so that your actions are a balance between what you deem comfortable, with what those around you feel comfortable with.

Everyone's seen that Seinfeld episode with the "close talker." Elaine's boyfriend speaks uncomfortably close to the people he communicates with. Nice guy, just a "close talker." (And a widely used term ever since). My point is - by your definition, this guy is not "acting naturally" - because he makes other people around him uncomfortable. But what if this just is the way he really "is?" If he got therapy, identified the root of his close-talkery, and mastered the art of "normal-talking" - it seems like this would be less natural than if he just accepted how he was, "naturally" - a close talker. In other words, changing his behavior to make others more comfortable would not make him more "himself" - even though by your definition it would.

Am I off base here?
posted by ifranzen at 2:01 AM on July 17, 2006

A more useful phrase to start using might be, "be the person you want to be."

"Just be yourself" is a short version of the following advice: don't give people a false impression of who you are and what you do, because in the long run, the relationship formed based on those false impressions is little better than a poisoned well. And if people don't like your style (so to speak), then the relationship probably wasn't worth having anyway.

It's just hard for people to admit that everyone has flaws; we assume everyone else is loving life and comfortable with themselves. So the advice gets boiled down into "be yourself."
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 2:12 AM on July 17, 2006 [2 favorites]

ifranzen : "After all, Hume pointed out, when you start introspecting, you notice a bunch of thoughts and feelings and perceptions and such, but you never perceive any substance you could call 'the self'. So as far as we can tell, Hume concludes, there is nothing to the self over and above a big, fleeting bundle of perceptions."

The 'self' is the receiver of consciousness, not an object within.

You are always your 'true self'. As mentioned above, this admonishment typically seeks you to relax yourself.
posted by Gyan at 2:13 AM on July 17, 2006

Quick one: ignore Maslow. That self-actualisation twaddle has to be one of the most vague concepts in all of psychology, even if it has fed into 1001 self-help books about "unleashing the power within" etc.

You might find some guidance from the existentialists, especially Sartre. The notion of "authenticity" was one of the central issues that they tried to address through their philosophy & probably translates almost directly into "being yourself" (ie in the face of pressures to conform, or live inauthentically)
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:40 AM on July 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've found myself in a similar situation recently. I used to love going out to big clubs and noisy bars, and people tended to view me as "the life of the party." Recently some of my friends started asking me, "What's wrong? Why aren't you being yourself? You're so morose!" when we'd be out. I was not cool having them talk to me like they knew me better than I knew my own emotions, so I've distanced myself from that group, and have focused on making more like-minded friends. I've also quit going to nightclubs. In the end, their comments helped me see not that something was wrong with me, but that I'd grown in a different direction from that group.

To answer your final question, strategies I employ to "be myself":

- Spend my time how I want to, with those I want to.
- Don't follow the pack.
- Focus on truly listening to others for the sake of hearing them, and clearly expressing myself

I guess it comes down to brutal honesty with myself, and having the guts to stick to my guns.
posted by saffron at 4:43 AM on July 17, 2006

Wikipedia link on authenticity, just in case it was too difficult to find yourself ;)
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:43 AM on July 17, 2006

Best answer: To me, the interesting thing about BEING yourself (the way I define it, anyway), is that to do so, you have to stop THINKING about yourself. You live in the moment and DO things. You don't pre-judge them and stifle impulses. I'm not claiming that this is a good (or bad) way to behave. Sometimes it leads to good outcomes; other times to bad ones. One must try to keep a healthy balance between impulses and checks.

I work with actors, and, paradoxically (since they're playing characters), I spend most of the time trying to get them to be themselves. Acting is bad when the actor views himself from outside himself; when, while acting, he imagines himself onstage, thinks about how he looks to the audience, worries about what he's doing with his hands, etc. Instead, he needs to drop all that and just BE in the moment. He needs to listen to what his acting partners are saying -- really listen -- and respond. (He also needs to know his lines so well that he NEVER has to think, "What's my next line?" The words need to just come to him at the appropriate time.)

Acting guru Sandford Meisner developed an exercise to help actors be themselves. It's a call-and-response game: two actors face each other and one makes an observation like "I'm hungry." The other repeats it back to him. "I'm hungry." The first actor listens to the repetition and repeats THAT back, "I'm hungry." They keep repeating the phrase over and over. Their job is just to listen to each other and repeat. Meisner would force his students to do this for hours and hours, until they had completely stropped performing and were just talking and listening.

From "Sanford Meisner on Acting":

"Your hair is shiny," John says.
"Your hair is shiny," Rose Marie repeats.
"Your hair is shiny."
"Your hair is shiny."
"Your hair is shiny."
"Your hair is shiny."
"Your hair is shiny."
"No," says Meisner stopping them, "you're making readings in order to create variety. Don't ... There's a time when the verbal contact between you changes, and [it should be] ... based on instinct. Instinct. ...You walk into a department store with a friend of yours, and you say, 'Do you see that tie? I want it!' Or you go to a party and across the room you see a girl and you say to yourself, 'I'm going to have her!' That comes from your instincts. ...I say that if you take your time, the change in you, which is -- I don't like to use the word 'automatic,' I don't like that word -- which is spontaneous, will happen. That's what you should work on now. Let your instincts dictate the changes..."

In Meisner's game, the dialogue CAN change, but it has to change "by itself." An actor can't DECIDE to change it.

An actor is also supposed to come up with "actions" (this part of Acting Theory comes from Stanislavsky. If you want more info, check out "A Practical Handbook for the Actor.") An action is usually expressed as a verb phrase, and it indicates what a character is trying to do in a scene. For instance, a character might be trying "to seduce," "to convince," "to undercut," "to steal," or "to win."

The point of actions is to stop actors from reflecting about their performances. It's to give them something to DO. Actors are warned against trying to EMOTE. They're shouldn't say, "I'm supposed to be sad in this scene," and they DEFINITELY shouldn't say, "The audience needs to get that I'm sad in this scene." In both those cases, the actor is standing outside himself, watching himself, and trying to coax himself into behaving in a certain way (in order to LOOK a certain way). This usually leads to fake acting. It doesn't seem like real human behavior. But when we see an actor trying to DO something -- when the actor gives up caring about how he looks and just DOES -- we're riveted and we believe.

This is similar to what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses in his book "Flow," which is about happiness. He believes that people are most happy when they're deeply involved in an activity -- so deeply involved that they forget about themselves.

So to "be yourself" -- to be most alive and in the moment -- means to WORK. To work at something with every fiber of your being. The work should involve all your senses, and the line should blur between you and what you're doing. When we're working this way, we're magnetic. People are drawn to us, even though we're not trying to draw them. When we try to draw them, we seem needy -- pathetic. When we work, we're beautiful.
posted by grumblebee at 5:06 AM on July 17, 2006 [22 favorites]

I think "be yourself" can mean focusing, mentally, on anything but how you are perceived, in the moment.

Saffron's example points to a different conception, however. If other people are asking you to be a certain way, they are of necessity referring to a less-complex personality than the one you actually have. So it's limiting to try to live up to others' ideas of you. Yet what more complete idea can we use as a model in creating ourselves?
posted by amtho at 5:06 AM on July 17, 2006

Following grumblebee, IMO the individual personality is an epiphenomenon, an illusion.

I find that, to the degree I can act without regard for my self, I find myself acting in the manner I would have liked my self to act. When hacking or performing music, time perception tends to disappear and this is when the best stuff happens.

There is a strange complementarity at work here.
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:31 AM on July 17, 2006

ifranzen: If you accept Sartre's proposition that man has no nature and makes himself as he sees himself - then living up to an existing standard is impossible, because no such standard exists.

Sartre didn't say there were no standards. He just said they were not "given." They aren't handed down from on high, just as "essence" isn't. In his famous phrase, "existence precedes essence." You are what you're doing and what you've done. The direction you take in life is a sum total of choices. Accepting the responsibility to choose wisely (for yourself and, in as much as your actions affect others, for all people) is what existentialism is all about. To refuse to choose, even though you understand that choice is necessary, is to live in "bad faith."
posted by wheat at 6:39 AM on July 17, 2006

I think this is akin to quantum mechanisms. Viewing yourself, makes you self conscious (in the fact that you're actively trying to "be" some given affect), rather that just acting.

The act of self observation distrubs the behavior. Instead of 'being' in the moment - you're observering the moment and trying to 'act' rather than just 'be.'

"One of my inner desires involves the supression of my flaws and self-improvement. If I were to "be myself," would that involve surpressing that desire? If so, then is "being yourself" contradictory to change?"

Because the actions you perform aren't natural yet (you actively have to think, 'don't criticize, don't criticize' in your choice to percieve this as a flaw you'd like to change) and it's not a part of who you are. Until it becomes a natural reflex, It's not you.
posted by filmgeek at 7:15 AM on July 17, 2006

Napkin Notes on the Art of Living is a wonderful book that captures all the things we do to not be ourselves, and ultimately how we can take responsibility to be ourselves more. Here is a story from the first chapter:

Once, A Truthseeker became frustrated. It seemed that no matter what discipline he studied, course he took, religion he followed, or book he read, he just couldn't find the truth. So he decided to take a trip to a place where lots of people are reported to know the truth: India.

When he arrived, the seeker looked for a guru. (Gurus are people who know what the Truth is.) He asked everyone the name of India's Top-banana guru.

After weeks of searching the seeker came to an ashram. (An ashram is wehre gurus hang out.) The large sign in front said:" The guru is in, please take a number."

The truthseeker was les to a room where he waited. Finally, the guru appeared. He was a little guy with a big smile on his face. (You always smile when you know what the Truth is.)

"How can I serve you?", asked the Guru. "Master, I have traveled a great distance. I've tried many ways to find the Truth. Do you know what the Truth is?"

"Of course, I know what the Truth is. How could I be a a Guru is I didn't know the Truth?"

"Sorry," said the seeker, a bit embarrassed. "Would you share the Truth with me?"

The Guru looked at the seeker intently. "It's just not that wasy. Living is an Art. To know the Truth. You'll have to pay the price."

The seeker gulped. Of course there would be a price. You don't get something for nothing! A Guru would have to be out of his mind to give the Truth away for free!

The seker, gathering courage, asked:
"How much money will it take?"
The Guru laughed. "The Truth doesn't cost money. The price is that you'll have to perform a service for ten years. The task you are to perform is obvious."

The seeker, who had been a disciple and a follower before, knew the story.
"I'll do whatever is necessary, Master."

"Good," said the Guru as he pointed. "Do you see those barns down there?"

Indeed, the seeker could not only see the barns. He could smell the barns.

"Those barns are the dwelling place of the Sacred Cows. In order for you to know the Truth, You'll have to keep those barns spotless for ten years. When you have performed the task, come back and I'll share
the Truth
with you."

The seeker thought about what the Guru had said.
"Ten years...Ten years!!!" There was no way he wanted to shovel Cow dung for ten years, sacred or not! No way! But as he pondered, it became obvious by the way the Guru Smiled that the Guru knew something that he didn't know.

If he could just figure it out.
The Truth
His life would work. Like the Guru. He could have that same Satisfaction and Inner Peace, and that would be worth any price.

"O.K., I'll do it!" The seeker shouted triumphently.

He began his task. Days became weeks, weeks became months, months became years. The seeker at times seemed like arobot. He even forgot for long periods why he was shoveling. He seemed to be doing it
Just to be doing it.

Finally, the last day came.

At sunset, he ran up the hill to the Ashram where he had stood ten years earlier.

The Guru looked as though he had been expecting him.

Out of breath and stumbling the truthseeker shouted, "Master, I've done it. I'v done it. I've cleaned the dwelling place of the Sacred Cows for ten years. Now, will you tell me the Truth?"

The guru smile. "Yes, my son. You've worked hard and you've kept your word. Now you can know the Truth;
The Truth is YOU ARE."

The seeker said, "Yes, go on. I'm ready."

The Guru looked at the seeker and simply stated:
"That's it. That's the only Truth there is.
The Truth is YOU ARE.
You've spent your life asking that question and the last ten years discovering the answer."

Realizing that that was the extent of the message, the seeker stopped.

The combination of
and disappointment
showed in his voice.

"I don't get it!
I shoveled and shoveled for ten years to find out: I AM!
I just don't get it."

The Guru just smiled and asked,
"How much more
are you going to have to shovel
before you do get it?"

posted by blueyellow at 7:46 AM on July 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I take very seriously the advice, found all over philosophy, to 'know thyself'. 'Be thyself' has never done much for me, because it seems so vacuous (your second reason, about the desire to improve yourself, is right on the money).

Similar problems with 'Who am I?' or 'pursue happiness'. Heck, similar problems with whether the glass is half full or half empty. In my good old traditional teenage identity crisis, on the advice of Truman G. Madsen, I replaced 'Who am I?' with 'Whose am I?', a decision that has freed me from a lot of paralysis. A lot of what I've been finding about happiness is summed up in 'Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.' seen recently on MF, but I can't find it with Yahoo or Google. Is the glass half full? Half empty? Who cares? If you're thirsty, drain it and demand a refill, end of story.

On a more practical note, you can start with the knowing yourself by writing some sort of journal. Don't call it that if calling it that tends to get you in trouble—writing every last boring detail, or neglecting it because you can't do it justice, or whatever. Call it notes for recall on some worthwhile topic that you study daily, call it a weekly newsletter, call it a 500-word biweekly response essay on something you've chosen to read, or call it a mandatory daily log of (a) one thing you did for someone else, (b) one thing you enjoyed, and (c) one thing that you think will pay off down the road. I have never, ever been a good writer of traditional journals, but I have done all of the above, and they have been most informative. Bit by bit you'll notice what is typical of you, what is characteristic of the better self you're growing into, what makes you glad, what can make you gladder.

At that point, well, you've got to deal with the problem of accurately living with both your current self and your projected self, and with the uncomfortable gap between them. This is a really personal one that you're going to have to work out on your own.

One final quote. In my file of 'advice that is actually true', this is the closest analogue to 'be yourself':
Krishna says, At any given moment in time we are what we are. Arjuna, we have to accept the consequences of being ourselves—and only through this acceptance can we begin to evolve further.
The Sojourn of Arjuna, lyrics prepared from the Bhagavad-Gita, on the album Left of Cool, by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
posted by eritain at 7:51 AM on July 17, 2006 [3 favorites]

"How am I not myself?" (Brad Stand, I Heart Huckabees)

That's a joke.

Honestly, I always thought being yourself was just being without overthinking it or being overly selfconscious. Yet, how are you not yourself?
posted by onepapertiger at 8:14 AM on July 17, 2006

The Greek dictum to 'Know Thyself' has nothing to do with the new age pursuit of happiness. It's a terrible tragedy that various psychologists have been able to leverage the philosophical concept of Self, in its all depth and nuance, into a stupid formula for mindless "happiness." It's very much like the Old Testament and the New Testament: the words are the same and that's it.

The Greeks inscribed the maxim "Know Thyself" on the Sun god Apollo's Oracle of Delphi temple. However, I've studied myself, written countless journal entries, and seem to know every little thing about myself. And yet, I don't really think I'm being myself.

The important part of the maxim is not the 'Thyself' part, it's the 'Know' part. The critical distinction is between (true) knowledge and (false) belief. You can leave off the 'Thyself' part completely (it's only enhances the 'Know') and the same effect is achieved. All of the garbage about 'self-actualization' is in fact the very opposite point that many Greek thinkers were trying to make: happiness is not something that can be achieved by knocking items off a checklist (house, car, wife, 2.5 kids, etc) nor is it a feeling or "spiritual reality," rather it's the product of thinking.

Anyways, to make a long story short, try to forget the whole 'Be yourself' nonsense. This is actually a command to conform, to stop thinking, to subject yourself to received ideas (even if those ideas came from you yourself). Anytime somebody tells you to 'stop thinking and be yourself' or to 'just relax' it should set off warning signals. All that really matters is honesty and courage. If you are committed to the truth and have the courage to subject everything and everyone to questioning then the end result is inevitably knowledge--about yourself and the world. Nietzsche takes this to the logical conclusion with the command to become a 'self-creator', though again, the 'self' isn't the important part.

The formulation 'How am I not myself' that onepapertiger quotes isn't a joke, it's actually a slightly better refinement of the original command. The keyword there is the 'How', literally the way in which, not the 'myself'. It's invitation to question.

P.S. This is also why I tend to dismiss advice about keeping a journal. Journals don't talk back. The best way to challenge yourself and your ideas is to talk about them with your intellectual peers.
posted by nixerman at 9:28 AM on July 17, 2006

Self-actualization has nothing to do with kids, cars, jobs, or money. It's the idea that one should pursue those things that further one's true sense of well-being, rather than just chasing "success" or "what I should be doing." It requires introspection and work to determine what those things are, and the courage to pursue them even if the path is frightening. It may also require finding people (preferably your parents) who will love and support you in whatever you do, rather than judging you for your faults or inadequacies.

Which fits into my thoughts about what "be yourself" means. It means doing work to figure out who you really are, what's really important to you, and living by those principles, rather than just buying into someone else's ideas of who you should be. It of course allows for change -- you don't just figure out who you are and then stop. It's a constant dialog, and you can (and probably should) constantly check in with yourself to see if the life you're living and the actions you're doing fit with the person you are.
posted by occhiblu at 9:42 AM on July 17, 2006

For a while, I thought Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was on to something with his books on "flow theory," but some years ago, I realized that most of life was never going to flow, because some resource or bound of most situations was likely to not allow optimal interaction. Time was short, energy was limited, experience didn't match conditions, etc., etc., except for those all too brief, and too widely spaced moments, that it did. Just enough to keep me mad at the world, and at myself, most of the rest of the time, it seemed.

By the time most of us become adults, we'd like to believe that there is some "I" that is relatively immutable, to whom our personal history, education, status, and personal relationships attach. Societies so depend upon the concept of a permanent identity, and we as individuals find it so useful, that we come to feel such a thing not only exists, but must have an essential nature. When we are that, and nothing else, we are "being ourselves," we want to think, and so we do.

And yet, nothing about us is entirely immutable. We change, in whole and by parts, all our lives, and even, physically, after we die. So whatever we think of as essential, as "I," as the thing to which our personal history, education, status, and relationships attach, must be mutable, too, if ever so slowly. And, of course, it is, although it takes 30 to 70 years to experience that.

So, what I'm saying is that is perfectly normal to be unsure of who you are in your mid 20's. You'll be much more sure, and much less satisfied about this when you are in your 30's. If you make it to your mid-40's you'll be desperate to change it, but by your mid-50's resignation sets in, and by your mid-60's, your just glad if all your plumbing still works and you're not embarrassing yourself regularly in public. By your mid-70's, it will seem silly that you ever wasted one summer's day in such a speculation. By your mid-80's, you'll forget you ever did.

Enjoy the sunny days, now, so you'll have them to forget later, when you need to.
posted by paulsc at 3:14 PM on July 17, 2006 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all the answers, especially the one from the person who teaches theater--a most apt response to the paradoxical portion, i.e. "act naturally."

I was about 50-50 on whether the following would occur: either a) someone knew right off the top of their head the name of "the one" book on this topic or b) no such a book exists

The verdict to me, as I see it is:

b) no such book exists.

However, combining this thread and my existing research, I've come to these latest conclusions:

- ILLUSIVITY OF THE SELF - the idea of the "self" is illusive. It's a problem of philosophy and therefore, perhaps by definition, intractable. To follow the maxim "know thyself," one cannot take it literally.

- CONCRETE STAGE - this is about a distinct state of being that involves being true to yourself, and not a spectrum. i.e. to follow the principles of the maxim is to be switched-on in a way. It is more of a real path that you are either on or off.

- CSIKSZENTMIHALYI'S FLOW - barring paulsc's objection, the concepts of Mihaly's meme are very commonly cited as symptoms of this "true" person. Under the right conditions, a person will lose consciousness, be in the moment, lose sense of time, etc..

- SIGNATURE STRENGTHS - call it "signature strengths" like Seligman does, or "true potential" like Maslow does, whatever. Either way, anybody that is talking about a "self-actualized" individual is referring to those who do activities that cultivate unique innate talents. Someone hungry for money who then tries to do anything it takes to make it, including stuff that she is not exactly designed to do, is not this "self-actualized" individual.

- PHENOMENAL UNCERTAINTY - I read somewhere a suggestion that only 1 in 1000 are self-actualized individuals. Not everybody knows the concept I'm grabbing for. Maslow thinks that after you've made money and proven yourself to others, you seek this higher-order self-actualization. However, Maslow, as was suggested earlier, had sketchy methods.

I'm not 100% sure on all of these. For all I know, there could be no "concrete stage." However, my gut tells me there is. In my personal life, I've felt, for at least a year, that switched-on state, where my occupational direction coincided so well with my personality that I just exploded with creativity and productivity. Imagine a whole year under the conditions of Flow. Plus, it seems some people get on this gilded path where they're just growing rapidly, and not just internally, but in a public way, such that success comes so naturally to them. They achieve some sort of "lift-off." If you've ever been allured by the maxim "pursue your passions" then you know what is being discussed here.

The stand I'm taking is that the following three things are related somehow:
- "being yourself" at a club
- "finding yourself" with regard to soul searching and relationships
- "finding you true calling" with regard to careers

And that if we find out the common thread to all of them, we figure out:
- quarterlife crises
- midlife crises
- identity crises
- "Sunday neuorses" (Viktor Frankl)
- adolescent uncertainties
- finding your "soulmate"
posted by philosophistry at 8:12 PM on July 17, 2006

The important part of the maxim is not the 'Thyself' part, it's the 'Know' part. The critical distinction is between (true) knowledge and (false) belief. You can leave off the 'Thyself' part completely (it's only enhances the 'Know') and the same effect is achieved.

mm, I'm not sure you've made a good case for this. for one thing, "the greeks" include a variety of different opinions on the subject, but- putting that aside, probably the one who made the dictum most famous to us was Socrates, who mentions it in his apology. And Socrates quite specifically a)suggests that self examination is the root of truth and b)that human wisdom is essentially worthless, and that the first step toward real wisdom is a recognition of our ignorance.

His distinction between true knowledge (episteme) and mere belief (doxa) is based on 'walking the road oneself', not on double blind trials or something. Precisely what the determination is can be argued, but to suggest it's all about rationally determining the right answer and rejecting 'nonsense' you may feel or experience is definitely not the point. In essence, you cannot take answers other people give to you; you must work out the truth yourself, because you will not really understand until you've been there.

All of the garbage about 'self-actualization' is in fact the very opposite point that many Greek thinkers were trying to make: happiness is not something that can be achieved by knocking items off a checklist (house, car, wife, 2.5 kids, etc) nor is it a feeling or "spiritual reality," rather it's the product of thinking.

No idea where the checklist has been suggested - but as to the 'feeling/spiritual reality', the greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, in essence means "spiritual fulfillment", and to achieve it one has to a)live excellently and b)contemplate being, so again, I think you are misunderstanding either the greeks or the 'self-actualization' suggestions. KNowledge is key, but knowledge is not a collection of facts or arguments (that's the big mistake of the sophists, according to socrates/plato).

Anyway. I'm surprised this question made it as a dozen answers could be given; suffice to say it's one among many fascinations of philosophers, and different thinkers will emphasize the role of your body, your brain in particular, your will/actions, your impressions (sense data), your experiences/ memories, your unified 'apperception' or the "I think" behind each thought, the divine, the relationship with the other, etc., in addition to disagreeing over whether the self is defined, chosen by you, completely non existent, etc.

But if you investigated every simple piece of advice your friends gave you on a philosophical level, you'd be able to turn almost any conversation into freshman college seminar. In common parlance it's used as a stand-in that we can all roughly appreciate. What people usually mean is, don't worry so much about how you're coming across, because when you do that, it actually makes you come across worse.
posted by mdn at 9:08 PM on July 17, 2006

"Character is who you are in the dark." -- Dr. Emilio Lizardo
posted by warbaby at 7:37 AM on July 18, 2006

nixerman: My journal talks back; or rather, my journal-substitutes do. Usually, the me that wrote it and the me that's reading have two different perspectives; but, equally usually, the things that the 'writing me' thought worth noting are sufficient for the 'reading me' to call up a decent simulacrum of the writer, and a nice point-counterpoint can ensue.
posted by eritain at 3:09 AM on July 24, 2006

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