I suppose it’s the modern day, Self-Help paradox: to change or to remain authentic? There seem to be certain platitudes bandied about amongst self-help aficionados.
“Growth is change, and change is life!”
Details aside, how do we reconcile this seemingly antagonistic pair? The very phrase, “Be yourself!” implies that there is one “self” to be. And if that is so, how can we know if we are being authentic to this self, or growing?
People spend an enormous amount of time thinking about who they are, and more often than not, who other people think they are. Yet, this leads us down a self-destructing path. It is doubtful that it can be said that there is even one self. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman brings up the idea of the memory self, and the experiencing self. What is more true, the self who remembers, or the self experiencing the now? How we remember things is often more true to us than what we actually experienced—even Kahneman thinks of himself as a man made up of memories. Therefore, even when we look to how our mind operates, there are multiple selves.
So is it much of a stretch to say that throughout the passage of time, we have multiple selves? Looking back on their lives, most people would say that they’ve changed in unimaginable ways, whether it be from outlook, personality, interests, or goals. This does not mean a departure from the authentic self occurred, but it does mean that there was growth.
Perhaps the saving grace for reconciling these two is to drop the idea of the “self.” Ideas of the self lead to stunting the growth of the self, for in order to grow, one must change. If someone thinks that they are funny, they will be encouraged to act funny. Soon, something that was a complement given from another, becomes the prison of expectation from which one acts. To put a label on the self is to limit the self, taking away the one thing that will always be a part of the self: Change.
To be authentic, without limits, is to act in the Tao—each moment calling to action that is the most natural. It is the constant awareness and mindfulness of the self that allows one to observe changes, while inhabiting the self of the moment.